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Is Obesity a Disability? Experts Weigh In Ambro/

Is Obesity a Disability? Experts Weigh In

Leading obesity organizations support disability protections for some individuals with obesity.

A recent European Court of Justice ruling supports disability protections for obesity under certain circumstances, and a group of organizations in the United States is calling for the same protection here. The EU decision that sparked the development of the new position relates to a case of a child-care worker who claimed he was fired from his job because of his weight.

In a joint position statement, Obesity Care Continuum (OCC) partners agree with the premise behind the ruling, and call for these protections to be enacted in the United States.

“Although obesity may not always be a disability by itself, it can lead to health problems that constitute disability,” said the statement from the Obesity Society (TOS) and its OCC partners, including the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), the Americans Society of Bariatric Physicians, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. “This recognition should help form the foundation for employers to offer considerations to employees affected by health disabilities due to obesity.”

Research shows that obesity is a far more complex condition than relating to willpower or eating less and exercising more. In most cases, obesity is chronic and challenging to treat and puts individuals at risk for more than 30 health conditions.

“The more we learn about obesity, the more we understand that acquiring obesity is not a personal choice, but a disease with serious health consequences,” says Ted Kyle, RPh, TOS advocacy advisor and OAC chairman, speaking on behalf of the OCC. “Like many diseases, individual decisions alone are not the answer. Further, current weight-loss treatment options can help manage the condition, but do not cure it.”

For next steps, the groups recommend federal and state policy measures to protect people with obesity from workplace discrimination and urge employers to recognize that while people with obesity are not inherently disabled, the disease can lead to disability.

“We appeal to employers to treat individuals with obesity with the same respect they would afford individuals with other diseases,” said Kyle.

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