Obesity, employment, and discrimination in the workplace

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Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

We all know that the rise in obesity across Europe is a significant concern. But did you know that high levels of obesity often coincide with high rates of unemployment? A recent poll shows that the longer a person is unemployed, the higher the rates of obesity. Rates reach up to 32.7% after a year or more of unemployment. A group in France and England are looking at obesity, employment, and discrimination in the workplace.

Logo of Interreg France Channel/Manche EnglandASPIRE is an Interreg France (Channel) England project which is funded by the European Regional Developent Fund. It is working with communities experiencing high levels of unemployment across northern France and Southern England. ASPIRE empowers people living with excess weight to make positive changes in their daily lives. By helping people to improve their self-esteem, health, and wellbeing through gardening, cooking, and other activities, ASPIRE opens up new opportunities and routes to employment. It will reach more than 20,000 people across the France (Channel) England area.

However, finding new opportunities for employment isn’t the only hurdle that ASPIRE and its participants face. People living with obesity also face stigma and discrimination in the workplace. Despite the rise of the ‘body positive’ movement in the media and with certain major brands, images of overweight or obese people outside of the medical field are rare- proof if it were needed of the invisibility of these people in a professional context. ASPIRE will raise awareness of the issues around obesity, employment, and discrimination in the workplace. It will also tackle stigma, and support people in their efforts to improve their health, learn new skills, and achieve their goals. Further, it will use an innovative ASPIRE employment/participation ladder, which will motivate participants to setting and reach their goals.

 Working with and not against recruiters and workers

The 15 ASPIRE partners are working on a white paper for recruiters, human resource managers, and organisations covering obesity, employment, and discrimination in the workplace. This is one of the ways they are trying to bring about a lasting change in recruiters’ behaviour. The development of this white paper included a detailed analysis of the target population and precise identification of the obstacles to behaviour change and action. The ASPIRE partnership also studied the literature that they could understand the target group, the reality of discrimination, the most frequent prejudices and preconceived ideas to be deconstructed, the key figures, and inspiring approaches. Eight additional in-depth interviews also took place with field workers and experts in France and England; this helped to refine knowledge and also enabled the development of a multi-disciplinary committee to validate and co-construct the ASPIRE approach.

The committee and the project found that it was crucial to be specific in describing and naming the challenges faced by people living with excess weight and obesity and not simply to talk about physical appearance and inclusion in a broad sense. They are therefore adopting an inclusive and supporting approach to everyone involved.  For example, the white paper aims to support and not undermine recruiters in making necessary changes.  It will emphasise the fact that employing people with diverse physiques can be an opportunity for the company.  For example, providing better quality of life at work, and improving the employer’s overall image and societal expectations. The paper will also provide facts and figures on the causes of obesity to reduce the many beliefs and prejudices about obese people in the workplace.

Guidance and support for recruiters to address discrimination and access to employmnent

The white paper will include a collection of practical sheets. Each will cover preconceived ideas or potential issues for recruiters, including six themes:

  1. Overweight/obesity and health: beware of generalities
  2. Overweight and obesity: an obstacle to physical endurance?
  3. Negative connotations linked with obesity, a prejudice to be tackled
  4. Encouraging diversity of profiles within teams: a major asset for the company
  5. Overweight/obese people, excluded from positions of responsibility?
  6. Victim or witness of discrimination: how to act?

To read the white paper and find out more about the work of ASPIRE, visit aspire-wellbeing.eu


Logo of the ASPIRE project. Addressing obesity, employment, and discrimination in the workplace

ASPIRE (Adding to Social capital and individual Potential In disadvantaged REgions) has received more than €7 million from the European Regional Development Fund.

ASPIRE is part of the Interreg VA France (Channel) England programme and will run from September 2019 to February 2023. The project has a total budget of over €10 million. It involves partners from the UK and France (see partner details below).

What is Interreg France (Channel) England? www.channelmanche.com

Interreg FCE is an EU programme set up to foster economic development in the south of the UK and north of France.  It funds innovative projects which have a sustainable cross-border benefit in the Programme’s eligible regions.

For more information about ASPIRE please contact: Sophie McGannan, Project Manager, [email protected]

Sophie McGannan
Project Manager at Health and Europe Centre

Sophie McGannan is a Project Manager at the Health and Europe Centre. The Centre develops, coordinates and manages European public health and social care projects. It is currently lead partner on 9 Interreg projects. Sophie studied law, economics, and management at the University of Lille and has a Masters degree in Public Administration - International Development from the University of York. Sophie is from Maidstone, Kent and has lived in northern France for the last 8 years.

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