Obesity Not a Disability, AMA Says

Obesity is not a disability, according to a policy adopted by the American Medical Association to formally oppose efforts by advocacy groups that would make doctors vulnerable to disability lawsuits.

obesity not a disability says AMAIf you’re obese, you’re not disabled. Under a new policy adopted last month, the AMA voted to formally oppose efforts by advocacy groups to define obesity as a disability.

It’s not like they’re doing it out of spite, though. The 245,000 members of the American Medical Association know that obesity ruins people’s lives. They also know that lawsuits ruin doctors’ lives. And since discrimination against the disabled is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the docs of the AMA are worried: if obesity is defined as being a disability under the law, then discussing obesity with a patient who doesn’t want to hear about it could result in a career-destroying lawsuit.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

So what is a disability according to the ADA? It is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of [an] individual”—a pretty broad definition, and one that leaves plenty of room for courtroom maneuvering.

For example, one federal court in Rhode Island ruled in 1993 that morbid obesity caused by a physiological disorder could be defined a disability, and a string of other courts right up to the present day have agreed.

Many AMA members worry that making obesity an officially-sanctioned disability would destroy the only defense they have against ADA-based discrimination lawsuits – the ambiguity of the term “disability”.

Legal experts say the doctors have a point. Making obesity a disability in the legal sense will only serve to have a chilling effect on discussion of the disease by doctors and their patients, they note, which benefits nobody.

9 Responses

  1. Walter Lindstrom

    Please do not assume that the AMA is doing this for just reasons rather than blatant and misguided self-interest. I’m a pretty well-recognized legal authority in this area and I can tell you that they DO NOT have a “point” and that for them to seek out an immunity under the guise of rendering proper patient care is paternalistic and unfair to all of us who suffer from this disease called “morbid obesity” and who may, in certain cases (and despite the AMA Resolution) be a qualified “disabled person” under the ADA.
    Here is a link to a better and more comprehensive story.

  2. Keith Morrison

    Eat a carrot once and a while. Don’t look for affirmation for your lack of pride and self discipline.

  3. Connie Pehrson

    There are many of us “morbidly obese” people who do eat carrots, and other vegetables and fruits and are very health-conscious eaters. Some of us have struggled with obesity our entire lives and will probably continue to do so because we want to be healthy. It is not because we haven’t tried hard enough or long enough. There are many reasons that a person becomes overweight, and each of us who are, are trying to do something about it in our own lives, in spite of people like you who judge us on the outside only.

    I, for one, do not battle a lack of pride, though, with people like you around it is difficult to keep a positive self-image. When did you decide that people who are overweight are just weak people who have no self-discipline? When was the last time you looked at your own weaknesses and struggles and patted yourself on the back for overcoming them?

    Instead of condemning those who struggle, perhaps you could share a smile or an encouraging word. In this world of “you are how you look-ism,” you might find that morbidly obese people are made of strong stuff, and work harder than you will ever recognize.

  4. Kit Morris

    Ok, so what is interesting in this is that the AMA believes they have any ‘pull’ on the definition of disability under the ADA. That is ludicrous. There is nothing in the ADA that qualifies a disability as to being caused by an outside force. Otherwise any cancer or heart patient, whose disability could be linked to any type of dietary habit or environmental factor, such as smoking, would also not be covered. The definition is what it is…a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. That is what the court will test a case against and with the ADA Ammendments Act that will be looked at even more broadly. The AMA can say whatever they wish with whatever self agrandizement they seek. It doesn’t change anything.

  5. Deborah

    So Keith if you’re healthy and such a know it all, why are you on a Weight Loss website giving people who are looking for answers a hard time?

    I probably eat healthier than you do, but have multiple health problems that have nothing to do with weight, which is why I gained the weight. I was in two car wrecks and certain medications made me gain weight in spite of a good diet….so hold your judgement and snide comments until you know what you’re talking about.

  6. Barbara

    Keith is a fool. Nothing like shoot your mouth off when you obviously know nothing about the subject. You go eat a carrot so your mouth had something to do.

  7. choccybox

    I dont know if i am on the right site here, but I am a female, aged 39, and in desperate need of a total hip replacement but keep getting refused due to my weight!! however i was not this wait when the hip deformity was diagnosed, and through being left 14 years in pain and on strong medication which has now given me more health issues, i am very angry! I have tried every form of weight loss, except surgery, as i am not heavy enough for that!! basically i was a very fit and healthy individual, very sporty, to now i cant even walk without a stick, even at that i cant walk far! I have even had to cahnge my car to an automatic, and have to lift my leg into the car, as i now have no rotation at all, i am seeing another surgeon next week, and i am soooo hoping he will say yes to a total hip replacement, but i am scared as well, as the last surgeon said there wasnt a surgeon in the uk that would touch me with a barge pole!! I am trapped in a vicious circle as i cant lose weight without being mobile, but i cant be mobile due to the pain, even with medication, its like waiting for death as i cant participate in activities with my family, i am always on the side lines watching.

  8. CatheCav

    I feel obesity should be a disability. At least in several cases. If a disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of [an] individual”— Then it qualifies.
    As in Choccybox’ case and mine weight gain is not a result of overeating or even any concious decision to not exercise. It is an inability to maintain or reduce weight do to other contributing health factors.
    In my case, a thyroid condition combined with an injury resulting in limited ability for walking, and standing. Basically, Since I can no longer work, my NOT being on my feet walking around for 10 hours per day, has cause me to gain significantly and has thus put my heart health in jeapordy.