Monash University, together with the University of Hawaii, examined whether a recently developed measure of anti-fat prejudice, the universal measure of bias (UMB), predicted workplace discrimination against obese people.
Lead researcher Kerry O'Brien, from the School of Political and Social Inquiry, said the nature of the study initially was concealed from the participants to avoid biased results.
Participants were shown a series of resumes that had a small photo of the supposed job applicant attached, and were asked to make ratings of the applicants' suitability, starting salary and employability.
"We used pictures of women pre-and post-bariatric surgery, and varied whether participants saw a resume that had a picture of an obese female attached, or the same female but in a normal weight range having undergone bariatric surgery," Dr O'Brien said.
"We found that obesity discrimination was displayed across all selection criteria, such as starting salary, leadership potential and likelihood of selection for the job."
The higher a participant's score on the UMB, the more likely they were to discriminate against obese candidates.
Dr O'Brien said one interpretation of this finding might be that we feel better about our own bodies if we compare ourselves to, and discriminate against, fatter people.
"The results suggest that a belief in the superiority of some individuals over others is related to the perception that obese individuals deserve fewer privileges and opportunities than non-fat individuals," he said.
He said the findings show that there is a clear need to address obesity discrimination, particularly against females, who tend to bear the brunt of anti-fat prejudice.