Expanding waistlines could expand the definition of ‘disability’

Recent studies have shown that the United Kingdom is home to some of the most overweight individuals in Western Europe – inspiring a hike in national incentives to get moving and a plethora of health foods and new gyms. Aside from the impact that our growing waistlines have on our lifespans, being overweight is increasingly making it difficult for some individuals to carry out their day-to-day tasks.

While being overweight does not fall into the classic definition of ‘disability’ under the Equality Act 2010, the Advocate General of Denmark has indicated that morbid obesity may be classified as a disability. In his opinion in Kaltoft v Kommunernes Landsforening (Municipality of Billund), the Advocate General claims that if a person is so morbidly obese that it hinders their ‘full participation in professional life on an equal footing with other employees’ then it may be described as being a ‘disability’.

While this opinion in itself is not binding, it will be taken into account by the Court of Justice of the European Union when they deliver their judgement later this year.

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Classifying morbid obesity as a disability would mean that many employers would have to ensure that the workplace is fully accessible for those who fall within this category. This could mean ensuring individuals who are morbidly obese can enter the work premises and have specialised equipment to suit their needs.

Perhaps of most interest is the fact that the Advocate General’s opinion proposes to classify all forms of morbid obesity as a disability, regardless of whether the cause of the obesity is the individual’s own excessive intake of calories or an unavoidable health problem.

 

Amarjit Atwal, Litigation Paralegal