Overweight girls 'face lifetime of discrimination and low pay'

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Teenage girls should prepare themselves for serious, long-lasting discrimination if they are overweight at the age of 16, according to new research.

A 14-year analysis of school- children and their eventual prospects has found that obese girls are likely to be trapped in low-earning jobs by the time they are 30. They also face health and relationship problems. Yet there was no similar discrimination against obese men as they entered the workforce, suggesting that women are judged more harshly on their looks than men.

The findings come amid concern that employers are increasingly looks-conscious. British law firms are already preparing to take on discrimination claims brought by overweight people who say they have been denied jobs and promotion.

The new study, published this week, found that 70 per cent of women who were overweight at 16 and 21 had working-class jobs by the age of 30, compared with 40 per cent of other women, even when family and economic background were taken into account.

The researchers who conducted the study, reported in the Journal of Social Science and Medicine this week, followed the fortunes of more than 1,000 European school- children. Jobs such as air hostess, clothes shop assistant or waitress could all be harder to obtain for overweight women, who may seek jobs where appearance matters less. "In trying to avoid exposing their bodies to other people, they may seek single-working jobs, like cleaner," the study said.

A study by the economist Barry Harper of London Metropolitan University found that "unattractive" people got paid less. The study of 11,000 employees found that short, fat female secretaries suffered most, collecting 15 per cent less than slimmer peers.

Rachael Morgan, 15, from Creetown, Dumfries and Galloway, agrees that girls are more likely to be bullied about their weight than boys. She is taunted every day about her size. Rachael, 14 stone, says the insults led to depression. She is writing songs to channel the emotion. "I feel sorry for the people who call me names. Just because I'm a bit bigger, that doesn't make me a bad person. I get a lot of stick, mainly from boys. I will lose weight - when it's right for me."

Additional reporting by Ross Whittam