Is weight discrimination in Manitoba a human’s right issue?
Or is it the last acceptable form of discrimination to a manageable condition?
Dietician Lindsey Mazur and two-dozen others gathered at the Manitoba legislature Wednesday to support the abolishment of discrimination based upon someone’s physical size and weight.
“People are being made to feel ashamed or bullied. There are also issues where people are not getting the help or the treatment that they should be getting,” says Jon Gerrard, a Liberal legislature member who is supporting the effort to make the province of Manitoba the first to amend the provincial humans rights code to abolish discrimination based on physical size or weight.
Currently, Manitoba’s human rights codes does not allow discrimination for things such as gender, age, disability, and religion. Mazur said that people in her workplace are being denied surgery and care because of their weight, and that others are not getting promotions in the work place because of it.
“A friend of mine who worked at a fitness facility here in Winnipeg was told no one would want to look like her; therefore, no one would want to train with her, and a project was given to a younger, slimmer colleague of hers,” says Mazur. “Another person contacted me to say she was up for a promotion at her job and she asked if the other applicant was more qualified than her and she was told ‘no … but she is more attractive than you.'”
Some rulings have been made in Canada in favour of obese peoples in the past, but in those cases their obesity was treated as a disability. New Democratic justice critic Andrew Swan says people should not have to deem their weight as a disability to be protected from discrimination.
A private member bill was introduced earlier this year by Gerrard to ban the discrimination, but the bill did not get voted upon before the legislature’s last session. He reintroduced the bill today. Gerrard says the New Democrats are set to support it but the Progressive Conservative government has reservations.
A study in the International Journal of Obesity found strong indications that people with obesity are discriminated against. The study actually found the heavier the person the worse the discrimination.
The study found an overall rate of discrimination of 7.3% across all weights and sizes. Normal and overweight (BMI 18.5-29.9) participants were found to be discriminated against 5.6% of the time, those considered obese class 1 (BMI 30-34.9) 10.2% of the time, obese class 2 (BMI 35-39.9) 18.7%, 19.7% for those who were found to be underweight (BMI < 18.5), and an astonishing 38% of people who were considered obese class 3 (BMI ≥ 40.0) were found to be discriminated against.
The Health at Every Size (HAES) movement has become a visible one in recent years, but it is not without its skeptics. Some say it simply endorses an unhealthy weight and lifestyle.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa who is the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute, which offers non-surgical weight management, took issue with the HAES movement’s de-facto leader, Linda Bacon, who is the author of its bible, “Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight”.
“She holds out nonsensical research to support her opinions; anything that supports her confirmation bias she is happy to promote,” says Freedhoff of Bacon. “To say that you can’t be against fat shaming and support losing weight is not true, and to say that losing weight has no benefit is not true. HAES says the numbers of people dying from obesity is exaggerated, but it’s still a lot. I would ask how many deaths it takes for it to be something to be concerned about. No one can deny there are deaths. Even being really conservative we’re still talking about tens of thousands of deaths per year.”
Others who will be voting on Gerrard’s bill say their mind is not yet made on the subject.
“Our government is very supportive of accepting everyone in Manitoba and not discriminating against everyone, so we’ll certainly take a look at this bill,” said Greg Nesbitt, a member of the Manitoba PC party. “We’ll have to see and debate it in the legislature.”