65% of the world’s population live in countries where being overweight or obese kills more people than being underweight. Obesity has serious adverse consequences for morbidity, disability and quality of life and entails higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, several common forms of cancer, osteoarthritis and other problems.

Obesity is preventable and capable of being remedied but in addition, by way of some good news for those who are obese, there is a cohort of obese people who, according to a recent study, are better off than those who are not obese. 

On 23 December 2014 The Times published an article based on research of the American College of Cardiology which suggested that heart patients tend to live longer if they were obese or overweight before they developed the disease. Whilst 51% of normal weight patients died, only 45% of overweight and 38% of obese patients did. There had been similar studies previously and this anomaly is known as the “obesity paradox”. 

Also, it has been decided on 18 December 2014 by the European Court of Justine (“ECJ”) that although there was no European Union law which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of obesity workers who are obese may be disabled because of the effects of obesity.

Again, as with so many issues of law, one has to go back to the basic principles. Under the Equal Treatment Framework Directive which sets the framework for the Equality Act 2010, obesity will be a disability if it involves a limitation causing, especially, long-term, mental or physiological impairments which hinder a worker’s full and effective participation in their working life on an equal basis with other workers. 

It is not only severe obesity which might fall within the definition of disability; cases will turn on their own particular facts. Some of those who are obese qualify as suffering from a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

In English Law it still remains that obesity is not an impairment but the effects of obesity may result in an obese worker being disabled. 

In cases such of worker suffering from impairments such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or other forms of medical impairments they may or may not be disabled depending on whether they are substantial impairments.

The ECJ decided that in deciding whether a worker suffered from a disability one should not look at the origin of what was said to be the disability. In addition, the fact that some obese people may have contributed in a culpable sense to the onset of the disability does not affect the issue of whether or not they suffer from a disability.

The key matter is Does the worker suffer from a long-term limitation as a result of physical, mental or psychological impairments that, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in working life with other workers?

The ECJ took the view that a worker is disabled where their obesity hindered their full and effective participation in working-life, they had reduced mobility or suffered from medical conditions which prevented them from carrying out their work or caused discomfort or pain when carrying out their work.