Punished for Being Overweight?

  • In Flight

    Last week, a picture of an incredibly overweight man trying to squeeze into a single seat on an airplane went viral. In the picture, half the man’s body is hanging out into the aisle of the plane. The image resurrected a longtime debate over whether someone can be too fat to fly (and has prompted a safety investigation by the FAA). More broadly, it highlights an emerging trend in our culture where people are often penalized for being overweight. In this particular case, the man was allowed to fly, but there are plenty of other stories where overweight customers and employees are restricted solely based on their size. It may be more important now than ever to sort through our country’s policies regarding overweight people. According to one recent study, 43% of Americans will be considered obese by 2018. In other words, either you or the person next to you may be the one blocking the aisle in less than 10 years. So, will these penalties help prevent the obesity epidemic, or just exacerbate the stigma that overweight Americans feel already? Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine
    Kicked Off the Plane
  • Kicked Off the Plane

    Around the same time that the picture of the overweight man on an airplane first surfaced, another man was having a particularly bad flight experience. Okamoni Fa was preparing to board a Southwest Airlines (Stock Quote: LUV) flight to Phoenix to attend uncle’s funeral when he was told he’d have to purchase an extra seat because he was considered “too large.” Fa, a 400-pound man, had flown many times before and claimed he’d never been forced to do that. Nevertheless, he probably would have complied with these regulations since he had to get to a funeral, except it turned out that there were no other seats available. So rather than let Fa on the plane anyway, Southwest Airlines barred him from the flight. No other flights were available that day, so he missed his uncle’s funeral. While this story might sound like an extreme case, there have been plenty of examples of overweight airline passengers being charged for an extra seat. In addition to Southwest Airlines, United has also adopted this policy. Photo Credit: Kyle May
    Hospital Fines Employees
  • Hospital Fines Employees

    In 2007, Clarian, an Indiana hospital chain, announced that it would start penalizing overweight employees by deducting $10 from every paycheck. The company also docked employees for smoking, high cholesterol and blood pressure, each resulting in $5 off on every paycheck. The plan was meant to encourage employees to avoid unhealthy behaviors, but some argued that the net affect was penalizing people for their personal lifestyles, and more problematically, for physical traits that may be outside the scope of their work responsibilities. Photo Credit: psd
    Health Insurance Premiums
  • Health Insurance Premiums

    Lawmakers have been debating legislative proposals that would establish higher health care premiums for obese Americans. Still, it remains to be seen whether this will make it into the final health care reform bill. The reasoning behind the measure is relatively simple. As we mentioned earlier, the number of obese Americans is expected to skyrocket in the next decade. Economists estimate that this will lead to nearly $350 billion of obesity-related health care costs by 2018. To put it differently, the average insured American will essentially be paying an extra $1,425 because of overweight peers. That’s a heavy burden to bear. So penalizing the overweight with higher premiums is seen as a way to avoid penalizing healthy Americans for doing nothing wrong. Photo Credit: P Pogo
    The Fat Tax
  • The Fat Tax

    While legislators in Congress debate health insurance premiums, one state decided to enforce its own “fat tax.” Last year, Alabama announced that it would force overweight state employees to get in shape or else pay more for health insurance. (Alabama has the second-highest obesity rate in the country.) The state defines obesity as a body mass index of 35 or more (usually, it's 30, so perhaps they are trying to be charitable.) More recently, North Carolina announced that it would take the same route. Beginning in July 2011, state employees who are obese will be forced to enroll in pricier health care plans. Yet, at least according to one recent Rasmussen poll, only 30% of Americans believe that employees should be forced to pay more for health insurance. Photo Credit: rwkvisual
    Fat People Banned from Eating in Public
  • Fat People Banned from Eating in Public

    In other ridiculous state news, Mississippi tried to ban overweight people from eating in public early last year. Essentially, anyone with a body mass index above 30 would not be allowed to eat in a restaurant. The bill was destined to fail, but just the fact that it was proposed led many to question whether people were taking health consciousness too far in this country. Beyond that, it’s difficult to imagine how this kind of treatment could encourage better health. It seems likely that the only effect would be to make overweight people feel more shame over their size, which could cause them to be more unhealthy, only they’d be pushed out of public view, isolated from others. Sure, many states have forced smokers out of public places, but the rationalization for that is the effect of second-hand smoke, which has been proven to harm bystanders. There is clearly no parallel in the case of overweight people eating in public. Photo Credit: Hoggheff aka Hank Ashby aka Mr. Freshtags
    Ralph Lauren Fires Model
  • Ralph Lauren Fires Model

    Watch out, apparently even skinny people can be penalized for being fat. In October, Felippa Hamilton (pictured here), a Ralph Lauren (Stock Quote: RL) model, claimed she was fired for being overweight. “They fired me because they said I was overweight and I couldn’t fit in their clothes anymore,” Hamilton told the Daily News. Hamilton says she is 5’10” and weighs 120 pounds. Not exactly a sumo wrestler. To add insult to injury, she discovered that a picture from her last photo shoot was touched up to make her look abnormally skinny. Photo Credit: AV8TER
    Football Team Fines Player
  • Football Team Fines Player

    As strange as it may sound that a model was penalized for weighing 120 pounds, it’s even stranger to hear that a football player was fined for being too fat. Aren’t these guys supposed to be big? JaMarcus Russell, the quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, admitted that he had been fined for being overweight in the 2009 season. At the time, Russell weighed 275 pounds, or 15 pounds more than his official playing weight. By the way, Russell makes almost $10 million a year and he was just benched because of poor performance. So unlike all the people on this list, this guy is probably getting better treatment than he deserves. Photo Credit: WikiCommons.org
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