Farage needs to shut up! Obesity isn’t about telling people to lose weight

The ruling by the European Court of Justice, concerning the case of Mr Karsten Kaltoft has caused quite a stir this week. This was the outcome of the case:

The European Court of Justice ruled that if obesity adversely affected,  “full and effective participation 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.”

Mr Kaltoft brought case to court after he felt that he was unfairly dismissed from his role as a childminder after successfully fulfilling the role for 15 years. He argued that he was still very capable of fulfilling all the duties of his role and that his weight was no barrier to him fulfilling his job.

Hailed as landmark ruling, many legal experts have expressed concerns about the pressures that it could create for the UK economy. Julian Hemming, employment partner at the law firm Osborne Clarke, said: “This ruling is a real problem for employers – it’s still not clear enough for them to be sure that they’re going to be on the right side of the law. While the ECJ does not consider obesity a disability in itself, businesses could still face discrimination claims from obese staff if their weight problem is of such a degree that they fall within the definition of having a ‘disability’ in the legislation.”

My problem with the case of Mr Kaltoft is, by his own admission, his size did not inhibit his ability to do his job. Under Social Model thinking, he is not therefore disabled. This is perhaps why the ECJ did not rule on the case of discrimination and referred it back to the local court. However I do feel that the recognition of  obesity having the capacity to create additional needs is important one.

Nigel Farage, typically said what many were probably thinking. Mr Farage said: “I think that we view disability as being something that happens unfortunately to quite a lot of people through no fault of their own – a genetic problem, a horrible accident, mental problems, whatever. People don’t choose to be disabled, absolutely not. I think it is quite difficult in the case of overweight people that it is a disability, because it is something – it may sound harsh – that they can actually do something about. There are some rare exceptions. But if somebody is very overweight and facing a life-threatening operation, the surgeon says ‘Lose a couple of stone, come back in six weeks, and we’ll do the operation.”

Mr Farage is wrong. It is far too simplistic to suggest that morbid obesity is a personal choice. If a person is obese to the point of it becoming a disabling factor to their lifestyle, the drivers behind that state of being are complex.

The old view of depression use to be held in similar regard. “Oh you just need to pull yourself together.” I can hear the words clumsily falling out of Nigel’s mouth. “Oh you just need to lose weight.”

As Mr Kaltoft pointed out himself, many people with weight problems do not choose to be that way. It is often not a choice and the assertion that it is, does not help anyone. If society is serious about helping people battling obesity, we to first come at it from a point of view of understanding.

So please shut it Mr Farage, and lets get on with the serious business of helping people battle obesity.

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