"I always feel that I’m underestimated" : obesity stigma in the workplace

Godfree, Kate (2020) "I always feel that I’m underestimated" : obesity stigma in the workplace. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis aims to examine obesity stigma in the workplace, both the evidence for, and experience of, obesity stigma. In the context of rising rates of obesity there is an increasing recognition of the negative impact of obesity stigma. Despite this, limited research has been conducted in the workplace and specifically, research examining obesity stigma in UK workplaces is lacking. Using a mixed-methods approach this thesis examines obesity stigma in the workplace through the lens of attribution theory in addition to exploring the potential impact of the cultural values: thin-ideal internalisation and healthism. To address the aims of this thesis three studies were conducted. The first study was a systematic literature review (n = 38) which examined where in the employment cycle research has been conducted. The results suggested that obesity stigma may be occurring throughout the employment cycle, however the majority of the research had been conducted in the US, with student samples and had predominately focused on recruitment. Therefore, the second study using a vignette design, examined obesity stigma in decisions relating to disciplinary actions amongst nursing managers. The findings showed that although nursing managers did not display behavioural bias there was a high prevalence of fat phobia. In addition, 66% of the nursing managers were overweight or obese. These findings have implications for organisations with regards to mitigating the potential effects of obesity stigma both in patient and colleague interactions. Finally, a third study was conducted examining the experiences of individuals with obesity once they are within an organisation. Interviews were conducted with a diverse sample of 21 UK employees. The findings highlight the diverse range of obesity stigma individuals with obesity are subjected to in the workplace, five overarching factors that impact on obesity stigma in the workplace and insights into how obesity stigma at work can be overcome. Together these findings suggest that to overcome obesity stigma, modifying the workplace in isolation is not likely to be sufficient; changes at the societal level are also required. This thesis provides novel insights into obesity stigma in UK workplaces in a number of ways. Taken together, these findings could help to inform both the justification for and development of evidence-based interventions to address obesity stigma at work. The implications for further research and practice are also discussed.

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