Obesity and disability discrimination

There are increasing numbers of stories and articles in the media about the growing problems of both child and adult obesity. An individual with a body mass index of 40 or above is classified as morbidly obese. Such a person might be considered disabled if the obesity has a real impact on their ability to participate in work. There is growing concern amongst employers groups that obesity could be classed as a disability as far as the Equality Act was concerned.

Back in 2003 the Employment Appeal Tribunal said that obesity was not considered a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act, but did go on to say that if someone was obese, they may be considered to suffer from other impairments which may amount to a disability. A recent case before the European Court of Justice said that the definition of disability may apply to a person whose condition makes the carrying out of a job or a participation in professional life more difficult and demanding. If obesity has reached such a degree that this was the case, it “can” be considered to be a disability.

The full outcome of the case is expected soon and it may conclude that obesity would need to be added to the list of categories of disability.


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