En español | Tom Ferraro, a New Jerseyan who carries 270 pounds on his 5-foot-10-inch frame, got a job cleaning crypts for Carrier Mausoleum in the town of Mahwah. But soon he was back on the street — and he believes it's because of his weight.
In Ferraro's telling, company owner Serge Carrier walked into the room where Ferraro was working and, with two coworkers listening, declared him "too fat." Ferraro is now suing Carrier, claiming discrimination based on weight. The company "unequivocally denies" the allegations.
We are a nation of Tom Ferraros. Two-thirds of Americans age 20 and older have enough extra pounds to face health risks, according to the National Institutes of Health. But at the same time, we're overwhelmingly biased against overweight people, convinced they are lazy, weak-willed and unintelligent.
"In the workplace, it results in inequitable hiring practices, prejudice from employers, lower wages, discriminatory action and wrongful termination," says Rebecca Puhl, director of research at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
There has been a 66 percent increase in weight bias in the last decade, especially against women, Puhl reported in a study published in the Journal of Obesity. The numbers are now comparable to race bias.
And as we age, the problem becomes worse. "The further you are from the societal ideal of beauty, the discrimination you face is exponentially harder," says Sondra Solovay, an attorney and author of Tipping the Scales of Justice: Fighting Weight-Based Discrimination.
Here are four areas in which weight bias currently shows up in American life.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was the subject of widespread debate in newspapers and on cable TV earlier this year about whether his weight might affect his fitness to serve as president of the United States. Commentators raised the issue of Christie's health in office and the example he would set for the rest of the nation.
Christie called those commentators "among the most ignorant I've ever heard in my life." They "further stigmatize people in a way that is really irrelevant to people's ability to do a particular job," he said.
Christie ultimately decided not to run.