As if the stigma associated with being obese isn’t bad enough, a hospital in Texas is refusing to hire people with a body mass index over 35, saying employees should have an appearance “free from distraction” for hospital patients. Citizens Medical Center in Victoria, Texas, requires potential employees to be screened by a physician for fitness, which includes BMI. Those who fail are turned away. Chief executive David Brown defends the policy, saying excessive weight has “all kinds of encumbrances” for the hospital and its health plan. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is a risk factor for several conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. A doctor at the hospital, though, thinks the policy is more about saving money than concern for the patients. Employees—and patients—who are overweight are more expensive, in terms of illness, health insurance costs and sick days. In 2010, 31% of people in Texas were obese, meaning a large number of Texans would be ineligible to work at Centers Medical Center. Current employees, however, who gain weight while employed are not terminated. Many feel that BMI is a poor predictor of both obesity and health. Bodybuilders and football players can be misclassified as obese even though they have low body fat. Only Michigan and a few cities have laws protecting people from this type of policy. Elsewhere, it’s not illegal to discriminate based upon a person’s weight, as long as the employee has a good reason for it.
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