Obesity a disability? Only lawyers will benefit from the ECJ’s farcical classification

    15 January 2015

    Real disability is humbling for those who have to live with it and those who care for the disabled. A true disability — degenerative neurological disease, for instance — involves the equivalent of a daily war to live in the way that most of us take for granted. We shouldn’t mock the truly disabled by misusing the word.

    Yet the European Court of Justice has classified obesity as a disability, meaning that we are all now expected to view those who, in the majority of cases, attained morbidly-obese status by determined and unrelentless bad-lifestyle choices as deserving of our understanding and admiration as those who battle real disability everyday. The interesting thing behind this latest ruling was that obesity wasn’t defined in precise medical terms, hence leaving the potential applications of this ruling wide open.

    Obesity is a multifaceted, complicated disease and is treatable (mostly) provided its sufferers take responsibility for their health and educate themselves as to what constitutes healthy choices.* How on earth can we grant obese people and not cancer patients the status of disability.

    To label obesity as a disability is an affront to those who are genuinely disabled and will simply result in the financial ruin of many smaller companies who will have to make the similar provisions for the obese that they currently make for those with physical or mental impairment. Any business unable to spend this money will then be forced into the position of having to reject an obese job applicant, and defend a subsequent court action for discrimination brought under employment rights legislation.

    To deal with the obesity crisis we must declare war, not on the unfortunate individuals who find themselves obese, but on the disease itself, in the way that we have done on HIV and Cancer. Throwing in the towel in this manner will simply disincentivise the obese from dealing with their condition.

    Obesity costs the British economy £15 billion and the NHS £4.2 billion in directly measured expenditure, annually. This will only go up in the light of a ruling like this. The ‘I’m not fat, I’m just curvy’ brigade must be celebrating the recent ruling. But there is only one group that truly benefits from this new ruling: lawyers. Forgive me for cynically wondering whether this is mere coincidence.

    * Disclaimer: this author’s BMI used to be 32 until he chose to do something about it.