The American Medical Association (AMA) declared that obesity is a disease and not a condition. AMA board member Patrice Harris stated in a statement,
Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue.
As background, the U.S. has been consistently rated as No. 1 in obesity. Recently, Mexico took the No. 1 spot and the U.S. moved to No. 2. See Huffington article, Mexico Obesity Rate Surpasses The United States (July 9, 2013). Mexico was reported to have 32.8% obesity rate while the U.S. has a rate of 31.8%.
This new definition may have an unknown impact in disability claims. The ABA Journal reports:
Although the AMA’s action was intended to affect medical treatment for the obese, “there’s a high probability it will make it easier for an obese employee to argue that he or she is disabled,” said partner Myra Creighton of Fisher & Phillips.
“It may be easier for employees to prove disability discrimination,” Creighton, who represents employers, told the newspaper. “And, if classified as a disease, it will be difficult for employers to argue that any level of obesity is not an impairment.”
The EmploymentEmployment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has previously defined a “morbid” obese individual as disabled. See, e.g., JD Supra, Morbid Obesity as a Covered Disability under the ADA (July 30, 2012); EEOC Press Release (July 24, 2012); EEOC Press Release (Apr. 10, 2012), EEOC Press Release (Sept. 27, 2011).
It would be interesting to see if the EEOC will change its definition of obesity as a disability.