Scientists have suggested that the discrimination that obese people feel, whether it is poor service at a restaurant or being treated differently in the workplace, may have a direct impact on their physical health.

“Obesity is a physiological issue, but when people have negative interactions in their social world -- including a sense of being discriminated against -- it can make matters worse and contribute to a person’s declining physical health,” said Markus H. Schafer, a doctoral student at Purdue University. Schafer, along with Kenneth F. Ferraro, a distinguished professor of sociology, compared body mass indexes to people’s health and perceptions of weight discrimination. More than 1,500 people, ages 25-74, were surveyed in 1995 and 2005 about issues related to aging and health equality as part of the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States.

“As expected, those who were obese fared worse in overall health when they were followed up with 10 years later,” Schafer said. “But we found there was a difference among those who felt they were discriminated against and those who didn’t,” he said.

About 11 percent of those who were moderately obese and 33 percent of those who were severely obese reported weight discrimination, and these were the individuals who had the sharpest decline over time in their functional abilities, such as the capacity to climb stairs or carry everyday items, Schafer said.

The study was published in this month’s Social Psychology Quarterly journal.

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