We’ve all heard of these cases: the employee rejected by a potential employer because she smokes, the air passenger forced to buy multiple plane tickets because he’s obese, or the individual who was denied health insurance coverage because of a pre-existing condition. But did you know there’s a term for it? It’s called “healthism,” and it can be discriminatory.

Jessica Roberts, director of the Health Law & Policy Institute (HLPI) at the UH Law Center, coined the term and has written numerous publications about this topic. It’s the idea that people might face discrimination on the basis of some health-related trait or conduct.

“It’s been my goal to take differential treatment based on health and encourage lawmakers and policymakers to think more deeply about the distinctions we draw and consider if they are having unappreciated discriminatory impacts,” Roberts said.

It’s important because “Stigma can lead to worse relative health and worse health outcomes,” said Roberts, who has developed a methodology to distinguish desirable health-based classifications from the undesirable and is encouraging policy solutions that limit health-based discrimination.

Roberts and her colleagues in HLPI are nationally-renowned legal experts on the forefront of emerging issues and policy analysis related to health care and biotechnology. It’s one of the reasons the Health Law program at the UH Law Center is the No. 2 health law program nationally in the U.S. News & World Report Law 2019 rankings.