Should Obesity Be Considered A Disability?

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Pag_R29_042414_RAW-765_FernandaSilvaPhotographed By Fernanda Silva.
As the number of people struggling with obesity continues to rise around the world, governments are faced with the increasingly complex problem of helping these individuals deal with the unique challenges they face. Case in point: Discrimination against overweight and obese individuals in the workplace. While weight-based bias is well-documented in many countries, legislation is only just beginning to address the issue.

This week, for example, the highest court in the European Union is hearing a case brought by a babysitter who says he was fired because he was obese. Judges in the case will be forced to decide whether obesity itself can be considered a disability, independent of any other medical issues. If so, victims will have more recourse to sue for discrimination or wrongful termination, while employers could be legally forced to accommodate the needs of obese employees, according to the BBC.

Similar cases are currently changing the course of discrimination law here in the U.S., as well. Just a few months ago, after a man sued his employer for discrimination and wrongful termination (and after a policy shift by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), federal district court in Missouri ruled that obesity can be legally considered a disability. The semantic implications of defining obesity as a "disability" notwithstanding, the fact that we're moving in a direction of increased legal agency for victims of weight bias is a good thing. Of course, as with all things in the legal universe, how long it will take remains an open question.