Obesity – a disability?

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

obesitydisabilityObesity is a term used to describe somebody who is overweight with a high degree of body fat. There are different levels of obesity; a person with a BMI between 30 and 40 would be considered to be ‘obese’, whilst a person with a BMI over 40 would be considered ‘morbidly obese’ or ‘very obese’.

Being obese increases a person’s risk of developing a number of serious and potentially life-threatening diseases, such as:

  • type 2 diabetes;
  • heart disease;
  • some types of cancer (e.g. breast cancer and colon cancer);
  • stroke

People who are obese (particularly those who are very obese) may well also experience issues that reduce their quality of life and make their everyday lives more difficult (e.g. difficulty moving around, knee problems from carrying too much weight, bowel and stomach problems, fatigue, impaired psychological health, etc.).

Under the Equality Act 2010, which aims to provide a single set of rules that cover all kinds of discrimination, people are classed as having disabilities if they have physical or mental impairments that have substantial and adverse long-term effects on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. So, using this definition, would people count as disabled if their obesity were affecting their day-to-day activities?

In itself, obesity does not count as a disability, although being obese (particularly being very obese) will increase the likelihood of a person suffering from related issues that might fall within the definition of obesity in legislation. In fact, a recent tribunal case concluded that a worker with a BMI of 48.5 and a number of health conditions relating to his weight (e.g. gout; sleep apnoea; knee, joint and back pain) was disabled, and it upheld his claim for harassment related to disability. So, employers need to consider whether their employees have an impairment that is making their everyday lives difficult for them, and whether the negative impact of the impairment(s) have been ‘substantial and long-term’ (i.e. 12 months, or more).

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Equality Act 2010, see the guide on our advice hub. Or, if you’re interested in other topics relating to the relationship between health and work, why not browse through the Fit for Work website to find relevant guides and blogs?

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