ECJ to make landmark ruling on treating obesity as a disability

June 12, 2014 - News

obesity 480253101A case brought to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) this week is calling for obesity to be treated as a disability. The outcome could set a precedent for employers across Europe.

Danish childminder Karsten Kaltoft has brought a case against his local authority alleging he was dismissed due to his obesity. His employers claimed he was unable to perform his duties, needing a colleague to help him tie a child’s shoelaces. Kaltoft weighed more than 158kg (25st) at the time he was dismissed.

Danish courts have referred the case to the ECJ, who must now decide whether, by dismissing, him they may have been guilty of disability discrimination.

The outcome could have an impact on employers in the UK, which currently has the highest percentages of obesity in Europe.

Applying the law
The Equality Act 2010 has previously been interpreted as protecting physical and mental conditions that result from obesity. UK courts have up until now rejected obesity itself as a disability in its own right, which means that if the ECJ reaches the opposite conclusion in this case, the Equality Act would need to be applied differently.*

‘This could have serious ramifications for UK employers and on the way we talk about obesity in general,’ said Dr Matt Capehorn, Medical Director at LighterLife.

‘While LighterLife firmly believes that no one should be discriminated against on account of their size, there needs to be wider discussion by the government and in public about what we’re going to do about our obesity problem’.

In 2007, the Foresight Report concluded that half the UK population could be obese by 2050, at a cost of £50bn a year, however recent reports from the National Obesity Forum suggest it could be even worse than predicted.**

Behavioural change
One possible solution to the issue could be for obese employees to be offered weight loss support.

LighterLife recently welcomed new guidelines from The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that recommends overweight people sign up to 12-week weight loss groups with the aim of losing 3% of their body weight and keeping it off for life.***

‘We’ve been working with NICE for a number of years and actively contributing to the debate around weight loss groups being an effective form of weight loss and weight maintenance, as an alternative to more radical interventions like bariatric surgery,’ said Capehorn.

‘Losing weight in a supported group environment, not only eases the burden on the NHS but has proven to be an effective way to lose weight and keep it off in the long-term’.

If you need support losing weight, LighterLife groups can help – our expertly-trained LighterLife Counsellors will help you to explore why you eat in the way you do so that you have the tools to lose weight and keep it off in the long-term. For more information, call 0800 2 988 988 or visit

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