There are currently 533,826,942 obese people in the world, costing the US alone more than $382,405,400 in healthcare costs. These numbers are only expected to increase. The EU is among the countries with exploding obesity rates, and now a European Court of Justice has determined that being ‘too fat’ can be considered a disability – in certain circumstances.
This issue comes to the fore after Karsten Kaltoft, who weighs about 160kg (25 stone), of Denmark was fired from his job for being obese. The court ruled that if the man’s weight hindered his ‘full and effective’ participation in his job requirements, it counts as a disability. The ruling is binding across the EU.
The judges explained that just being obese was not a disability, but if a long-term impairment resulted from their obesity it would be protected under disability laws.
Kaltoft was fired by his employers after working there for 15 years. His job was to watch children. His employer states he was fired because they had fewer children for him to care for, but he Kaltoft sustains he was fired due to his weight. He has commented to the BBC on reports presented that he was too fat to bend down and tie children’s shoes, saying that such claims were untrue.
Describing his work with children, he said: “I can sit on the floor and play with them, I have no problems like that.
“I don’t see myself as disabled. It’s not OK just to fire a person because they’re fat, if they’re doing their job properly.”
The Danish courts asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to clarify whether obesity was a disability after this case was brought to their attention.
The case also brings important issues up that much of the world will face if the obesity epidemic rages on.
As pointed out in The Weight of a Nation, an HBO documentary on this wide-spread problem: 69% of all Americans are either over-weight or obese. “Obesity is the biggest threat to the health, welfare and future of this country.” It leads to a host of diseases – diabetes, sleep apnea, heart attacks, and more.
If things keep going as they are, this will likely be the first generation of children who will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
There is no doubt that being overweight causes serious life issues – social, environmental, and economic, but out health is more important than a court’s ruling that obesity is a ‘disability.’ We are all disabled if we allow these rates of ill health to continue.