Obesity is an endemic public health issue in the United States. A new controversial policy at a hospital in Victoria, Texas bans people with a body mass index greater than 35 from being hired in an attempt to tackle the issue of obesity. The hospital argues that its hiring policy was implemented to promote a professional, health-conscious image of the employees working at Citizens Medical Center. Though obesity is a growing problem in the United States and needs to be addressed, Citizens Medical Center’s actions only further an underlying bias against those who are overweight. Using discriminatory methods to prohibit a group of people from seeking employment is neither a viable nor fair solution to this problem.

According the Texas Tribune, the hospitals policy states that “(an employee’s) physique ‘should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional,’ including an appearance ‘free from distraction’ for hospital patients.”

Opponents are reaching out to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and looking to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act for protection from the provision. Their main issue with the law is its specific assertion of “appearance” as the reason for a policy change. In places such as Washington, D.C. for example, there is a law against discrimination based on any surface level characteristic — otherwise known as the “ugly law.”

It’s wrong for any employment policy to discriminate based solely on an individual’s outer appearance. There is not implicit correlation between how a person looks and their ability to perform their job. Employers make decisions on how well an individual is able to do the job, not on how they look. Some opponents also believe that the hospital’s policy may be illegal. While Michigan is currently the only state in the nation that explicitly bans weight discrimination explicitly, and other equal employment laws throughout the nation may raise concern about the hospital policy.

An unnecessary stigma against overweight individuals already exists in society. Taking extreme actions — such as barring employment — to further discriminate against those who are overweight will only perpetuate the negative stereotypes. Obesity is a problem that needs to be addressed in a more positive manner. Promoting healthier food options, encouraging nutrition education and highlighting physical activity are all ways to better educate people on how to live a healthy life. The actions taken by this Texas hospital don’t solve the problem; instead, they only create a larger stigma against obese people.

Obesity is considered a chronic disease by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and it must be taken seriously. Still, companies shouldn’t bar qualified potential employees based solely on weight. Obesity in the United States is a growing epidemic, but discriminatory practices should not be instilled as a means to an end for this problem.

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