Obesity Professionals Speak Out on Disabilities
About a month ago, the highest court of the European Union touched off a fierce debate about the relationship between obesity and disabilities. Today, all of the major organizations with expertise in obesity have stepped forward to clear up some of the silliness that came out of that debate. The Obesity Society, the Obesity Action Coalition, the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics comprise the Obesity Care Continuum (OCC). Their joint position statement does three things:
- Opposes discrimination based on a person’s body weight.
- Supports federal and state policy measures to protect people with obesity from workplace discrimination.
- Urges employers to recognize that while people with obesity are not inherently disabled, obesity can at times lead to disability.
Courts in the U.S. and in Europe appear to be closely aligned on this question. Increasingly, courts and other government authorities are making it clear that obesity per se is not a disability, but that disabilities arising from obesity cannot justify discrimination against the people affected. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with a disability that arises from a chronic disease are entitled to protection against discrimination if they can do a job when provided with a “reasonable accommodation.”
Some employers have tried to argue that people with obesity are not entitled to such protection. Courts are ruling against them in growing numbers. The debate that arose from the European ruling at times became absurd. The most shocking example came from the Chicago Tribune, which suggested in a recent editorial that people with obesity should not be protected from discrimination because it “isn’t a good way to encourage self-discipline.”
In a press release on this new postion, Ted Kyle spoke for the OCC, saying:
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. As with many diseases, individual decisions alone are not the answer. Further, current treatment options can help manage the condition, but do not cure it. We appeal to employers to treat individuals with obesity with the same respect they would afford individuals with other diseases.
Disabilities don’t discriminate. They can arise from too many different situations to count. One of them is obesity. Discriminating against people with obesity makes no sense for anyone.
Discapacidad, photograph © Panshipanshi / flickr
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