Jobs site Fairygodboss recently carried out a survey of 500 hiring professionals, who were shown a picture of an overweight woman and asked if they’d consider employing her. Only 15.6% of them said that they would. Plus, one in five hiring personnel characterized the woman as “lazy,” and slightly more — 21% — called her “unprofessional.”

Professor Linda Bacon, who is a specialist in food and sustainability and an advocate for Health for Every Size movement, says that research supports that you can be both healthy and overweight.

In her book “Health at Every Size”, she says, “No obesity myth is more potent than the one that says obesity kills. It gives us permission to call our fear of fat a health concern, rather than naming it as the cultural oppression it is. That ‘obesity kills’ has been the backbone of the [U.S] federal public health campaign. Yet that is not supported by evidence examined by federal employees. Their research found that ‘even severe obesity failed to show up as a statistically significant mortality risk’ and suggested that overweight may actually be protective…The most comprehensive review, for instance, pooled data from 26 studies and concluded that overweight individuals were living slightly longer than those of normal weight.”

Although the etymology of the word ‘obese’ means, “that has eaten itself fat”, that is not the truth; for people who are in the ‘obese’ category very often do not eat any differently from people in the ‘normal’ category.

In a culture where people are pre-occupied with food and weight and with the constant message going out (even from well meaning healthcare professionals) that you need to be trim to be fit, instead of emphasising on being healthy, there is a lot of bashing going on, right from the schools to the places of work.

Not too long ago a Texas hospital found itself in hot water over a controversial new recruitment policy of not hiring fat people. The Texas Tribune reported in 2012 that the Citizens Medical Center required potential employees to have a body mass index of less than 35 — which is 100 kilograms for someone who is five and a half feet tall and 112 kgs for someone who is 5 foot 10.

The policy stated that employees “should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional.” In other words, fit people only. The hospital was then sued by two heavy-set doctors turned down from employment because of their weight.

Such unfair discriminatory hiring policy exists in the Singapore healthcare sector too. In 2010, then chief executive of Alexandra Health Group (the healthcare group which manages Alexandra Hospital and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital) Mr Liak Teng Lit, equated being trim to being healthy. He said, “[If you are overweight) you are going to fall sick”. He added that he will use ‘weight’ as a key performance indicator (KPI) for the staff in the hospitals managed by him and that overweight staff will not be promoted.

This KPI adds further stress to the staff in the hospital (many of whom are women) who juggle shift work, family commitments and societal pressures.

It is unclear if Alexandra Hospital which now comes under Sengkang Health, still practices such discriminatory hiring policy, but if it is still in the books then the onus is on the hospital’s human resource managers to substantiate and justify this policy.

Besides justifying this, the HR managers have to show that weight and body-shape generally affect work performance or pose a health-risk to the individual and their families, if it insists on using body weight of staff as a KPI. The healthcare sector employers also have to demonstrate how they apply similar considerations to individuals with other types of health risks such as smoking or who suffer from insomnia.

Such a KPI sets a very bad precedent not just for the health-care industry, but also for every other industry, for if it is accepted as a precedent, then one can stretch it to every health care establishment in the country and to any other job where there is greater exposure to germs (e.g. cinemas, shopping centres, toilets).

The job specifications of hospital staff should be that of promoting healthy living or taking care of sick patients when they check in. Surely, what a patient is looking for is caring and competent staff, be they fat, thin or otherwise.

Being trim equals being fit’ is a cultural idea that has been repeated so many times and has spread so swiftly that it has become part of our belief system. We are led to belief so strongly that being fat is killing us that we lose our open-mindedness and we see everything only through this lens.

The fact is, there are plenty of thin people who are making very bad health choices and don’t gain weight, as their bodies are genetically predisposed another way.

It is simply not true that everyone who is overweight has poor lifestyle habits.

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