/ 14 January 2015

Surgical weight loss a disadvantage in the job market – study

The study found that the reasons for weight loss 'had a significant impact on personality judgments'.
In the past, HIV-positive people weren't allowed to donate their organs. But that could change. (Luis Robayo, AFP)

Losing weight through surgery, instead of dieting and exercising, could mean losing out at your next job interview, according to new research published this month in medical journal Obesity Surgery.

The study, which focused on the perceptions of weight loss in women, found that employers were more likely to hire women who had lost weight through diet and exercise because they viewed women who had had surgery as less efficient and intelligent as well as more unhappy.

There are five main types of weight-loss surgery – collectively termed “bariatric surgeries” – and only extremely obese people, who usually have another health problem such as diabetes, are considered as candidates for this kind of operation, according to the United States medical research organisation Mayo Clinic.

Impact on judgments
The study researchers interviewed 154 adults, who were not overweight or obese, at a Midwestern university. The participants were first shown an image of a lean woman interested in a particular job and asked to rate her employability. 

They were next shown an image of the woman one year earlier, when she was obese, and were given six different scenarios for how she gained and lost the weight. They were then asked to rate her employability against these.

“The disadvantages in hiring, wages, promotions and job termination resulting from weight stigma are well documented,” wrote the authors. “These disadvantages appear to extend to previously obese individuals who lost weight surgically.”

The reasons for weight loss, as opposed to how the woman gained weight in the first place, “had a significant impact on personality judgments”.

On the rise
More than 100 000 bariatric surgeries are performed in the US every year, according to the authors.

Tess van der Merwe, director of the South African Society for Obesity and Metabolism, said that in South Africa 529 bariatric surgeries were performed last year – an increase from 463 in 2013.

“While bariatric surgery often results in sustained long-term weight loss, increased efforts are needed to reduce the stigma associated with bariatric surgery – to ensure individuals who may benefit from this surgery are not deterred because of continued stigma in various settings,” concluded the authors.