Eighty-eight percent of physicians in the US think obesity should not be declared a disability after a Dutch court ruled for a plaintiff seeking damages, claiming his weight was a disability. The ruling is binding for the European Union and could mean big changes for companies accommodating employees with work-related weight issues.
The Denmark court rules in favor of a childcare worker who fired for being unable to perform his job due to his weight. According to the BBC, the court said, “if obesity could hinder ‘full and effective participation’ then it could be considered a disability.”
To further clarify, “obesity in itself was not a disability – but if a person had a long-term impairment because of their obesity, they would be protected by disability legislation.”
The Danish court appealed to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for clarification, and the ECJ returned the opinion on obesity and disability. ECJ rulings are binding for all EU member nations.
Do US courts have an opinion?
In a handful of cases, some local courts have found for the plaintiff on the grounds obesity is a disability as defined by the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). In 2008, new guidelines for the ADA widened the definition of disability. In one 2011 case, the judge found obesity was a disability for a fired 527-pounds woman who worked for a non-profit. To date, none of the cases have reached a statewide or national level that would affect US companies in the way the EU ruling has.
What doctors think about obesity as a disability
As our poll numbers indicate, doctors strongly disagree with obesity being the sole reason to obtain disability status. “There are legitimate medical illnesses that cause obesity, and these should be respected as such. However, the vast majority of obese individuals do not have medical illnesses and are not entitled to disability,” said Dr. Andrew Wilner, neurologist and SERMO member.
Another SERMO member, Dr. Linda Girgis, a family practitioner wrote, “The key to solving this problem is prevention, not enablement. Governments should invest in curbing the epidemic and preventing obesity.”
As a physician, what do you think of obesity as a disability? Have you seen a patient who faced discrimination due to their weight? Do you think obesity guidelines should be set by Body Mass Index (BMI)?
We will be discussing this further inside the SERMO community, come join us.