The EU’s highest court has ruled that obesity can be considered a disability within European law.
The ruling comes after a Danish childminder was fired because he was too fat. The court ruled that if obesity impairs “full and effective participation” in the workplace then it could constitute a disability.
Obesity can cause a number of other health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer, and stroke, as well as psychological issues such as depression.
Rulings from the European Court of Justice are binding across all EU member nations.
The Danish courts asked the European Court of Justice to clarify whether obesity could be considered a disability.
The court ruled, “If, under given circumstances, the obesity of the worker entails a limitation which results in particular from physical, mental or psychological impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participations of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers, and the limitation is a long-term one, such obesity can fall within the concept of disability within the meaning of the directive.”
The ruling does not suggest that obesity in itself is a disability. It is the potential effects and complications caused by obesity that are considered disabilities. Type 2 diabetes, for example joint problems, or depression – workers who suffer from these conditions as a result of their obesity cannot be dismissed from their job because of their weight.
Some of the reactions to the ruling have been negative. Jane Deville Almond, the chairwoman of the British Obesity Society, said obesity should not be classified as a disability: “I think the downside would be that if employers suddenly have to start ensuring that they’ve got wider seats, larger tables, more parking spaces for people who are obese, I think then we’re just making the situations worse.”

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