Is Obesity A Disability

As a society, we have become increasingly aware of the importance of promoting inclusivity and diversity in all areas of life, including the workplace. One area that has garnered a lot of attention in recent years is weight-based discrimination.This raises the question: is obesity a disability?

Many individuals who are overweight or obese report experiencing discrimination in various settings, including the workplace.  In this article, we will explore the complexities of weight-based discrimination and the implications for individuals who are overweight or obese.

Is Obesity A Disability

Understanding the Definition of Disability

Before we can answer the question of whether obesity is a disability, it’s important to understand the legal definition of disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

The ADA goes on to provide examples of major life activities, including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, and caring for oneself. Importantly, the ADA also recognizes that individuals with disabilities have the right to be free from discrimination in the workplace and other settings.

The Complexities of Weight-Based Discrimination

Despite the legal protections afforded to individuals with disabilities, weight-based discrimination is not currently recognized as a form of discrimination under federal law. This means that individuals who are overweight or obese may not be able to bring a claim of discrimination under the ADA.

However, some states and localities have enacted laws that prohibit weight-based discrimination in certain settings.

One of the challenges with weight-based discrimination is that it can be difficult to prove. Unlike other forms of discrimination, such as discrimination on the basis of race or gender, weight-based discrimination may not be immediately apparent.

For example, an employer may not hire a candidate who is overweight or obese, but may cite other reasons for the decision, such as lack of experience or qualifications. This can make it challenging for individuals to bring a claim of discrimination.

Another challenge with weight-based discrimination is that it can be socially acceptable or even encouraged in some settings. For example, individuals who are overweight or obese may be subject to teasing or bullying in the workplace, which can create a hostile work environment.

However, some employers may view this behavior as harmless or even humorous, which can make it difficult for individuals to seek recourse.

Is Obesity A Disability

The Implications of Is Obesity a Disability

While the legal status of obesity as a disability remains unclear, there are some potential implications for individuals who are overweight or obese. For example, some employers may view obesity as a sign of laziness or lack of self-control, which can lead to negative stereotypes and assumptions about the individual’s abilities.

This can make it more difficult for individuals who are overweight or obese to obtain and maintain employment, as well as to advance in their careers.

Additionally, individuals who are overweight or obese may face health challenges that can impact their ability to work. For example, obesity is a risk factor for a number of chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea.

These conditions can require individuals to take time off from work for medical appointments or to manage their symptoms, which can impact their job performance and productivity.

Finally, the stigma and discrimination associated with obesity can have a negative impact on individuals’ mental health and well-being. This can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety, which can further impact their ability to work and succeed in the workplace.

Is Obesity A Disability


  1. Is obesity considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

While obesity itself is not considered a disability under the ADA, it can be considered a disability if it meets certain criteria. If the obesity is severe enough to limit major life activities, such as walking or breathing, then it may be considered a disability.

  1. What qualifies as severe obesity?

Severe obesity is typically defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher. However, if an individual has a lower BMI but experiences significant physical limitations or health issues related to their weight, they may still qualify as having a disability under the ADA.

  1. Can an employer discriminate against someone because of their obesity?

No, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone because of their weight or size. This includes discrimination in hiring, firing, promotions, and job assignments. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, including those related to obesity.

  1. Can an individual with obesity receive disability benefits?

Yes, individuals with severe obesity that limits major life activities may be eligible for disability benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). However, the individual must meet the specific criteria outlined by the Social Security Administration.

  1. Are there any laws that protect individuals from weight-based discrimination in public places?

While there are currently no federal laws that protect individuals from weight-based discrimination in public places, some states and cities have passed their own anti-discrimination laws. Additionally, the ADA prohibits weight-based discrimination in places of public accommodation, such as restaurants and hotels.

  1. What can individuals do if they believe they have experienced weight-based discrimination?

If an individual believes they have experienced weight-based discrimination, they can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Department of Justice. They may also be able to file a lawsuit against the person or organization that discriminated against them.

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