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Bias Against Obese Graduate School Applicants?

Applicants of any size fared equally in phone interviews, but bias crept in at face-to-face meetings

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 24 (HealthDay News) -- Add higher education to the list of things obese people might lose out on due to discrimination. A new study finds that being overweight may lower your odds of getting into graduate school.

"The success rate for people who had had no interview or a phone interview was pretty much equal," study author Jacob Burmeister, himself a Ph.D. candidate at Bowling Green State University, said in a university news release.

"But when in-person interviews were involved, there was quite a bit of difference, even when applicants started out on equal footing with their grades, test scores and letters of recommendation," he added.

Researchers looked at 97 applicants to psychology graduate programs at U.S. universities. The students in the study told the researchers about their application experiences and whether or not they received an offer of admission. The students included details such as whether they had been interviewed in person or over the telephone.

According to Burmeister's team, students who were relatively overweight or obese were less likely to be offered admission after an in-person interview.

This weight bias was stronger for female applicants, according to the study, which was published recently in the journal Obesity.

"When we looked at that we could see a clear relation between their weight and offers of admission for those applicants who had had an in-person interview," Burmeister said.

The researchers weren't surprised by their findings, according to Burmeister.

"We know that these kinds of biases are pretty common and even [perceived to be] somewhat acceptable compared to other biases, and there's not much legally forbidding it," he said.

"We might expect psychology faculty to be more aware of these types of biases. Thus, the level of bias found in this study could be a conservative estimate of the level of bias in the graduate admissions process in other fields," Burmeister added.

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