Is Obesity A Disability?

Walker v Sita Information Networking Computing

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) was asked to consider whether or not obesity could constitute a disability in accordance with the definition under the Equality Act.

The EAT found that obesity is not in its own right a disability, but it may make it more likely that someone is disabled.

In this case the claimant weighed over 21 stone and suffered from a long list of health problems relating to obesity, including asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. The claimant claimed that he was disabled.

The EAT held (reversing the decision of the original Employment Tribunal) that for disability discrimination purposes it is not necessary for a Tribunal to consider how an impairment is caused, the question is does the claimant have an impairment, and then if so if that impairment is physical or mental.

In this case the EAT found that he was genuinely impaired when the list of symptoms were considered. However, the EAT also accepted that in the absence of an obvious cause for the impairments, if the symptoms were in doubt then the cause may need to be investigated further; but that was not the case in these circumstances.

Overall therefore obesity can be considered when disability is in question, but alone it will not be sufficient to constitute a disability. However, when the health issues that flow from obesity are considered it may be that some of those may be classed as disabilities in any event.

Due to the increasing number of obese people in the UK it will no doubt follow that considerations of this question will happen more regularly when individuals try to argue that they are disabled.

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