The problem of overweight people has been seriously considered in the United States for many years. However, with the advent of the twenty-first century the issue of obesity and even morbid obesity became so critical that it may soon require government intervention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 35% of Americans are obese (“Adult obesity facts”). Moreover, the situation is only getting worse. In the light of these desperate circumstances, the debate of whether obesity should be considered to be a disability arises more and more often.
However, before taking sides, it is necessary to define the basic terms of obesity and disability, as well as analyzes the causes of the increasing number of obese people. According to Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine obesity is “an abnormal accumulation of body fat” that exceeds more than 20% of normal weight (Carson-DeWitt & Frey, 2006). In the case of morbid obesity, excessive weight may reach up to 100%. Consequently, obesity is associated with increased risk of various diseases and premature death. As for disability, it is generally defined as any kind of impairment that limits or reduces “the ability to perform some normal function” (“Disability,” 2001).
The causes for such enormous number of obese people can be divided into two main categories: those related to the change of diet and the ones associated with the change of lifestyle.
Diets started changing in the middle of the twentieth century. The introduction of soft drinks and earliest fast-food restaurants were only the first steps to the unhealthy and unbalanced diets that most people have today. Unlike some 50 years ago, nowadays very few women choose to be housewives. As a result, they do not have much time for home cooked meals. Thus, the consumption of processed foods has increased. Coupled with heavy advertising of unhealthy foods, high-calorie and high-fat products make up the core of many people’s diets. Moreover, successful marketing campaigns even turned some unhealthy products into trends, almost fetishes.
Sedentary lives that people lead are another factor that adds up to weight gain. The wealthier the nation becomes the less people work physically, and the more time they can spend relaxing. Desk jobs require no movement at all except for a rare walk to a coffee machine. Cars are seen as the only means of transport whatever the distance may be, even if one only needs to get around the corner. Moreover, almost all the work around the house is done with minimum effort. Lawn mowers that are driven, not pushed, dishes washed by the machine, and even the floors cleaned by special robots allow people to do all the housework with just a push of a button.
The situation has certainly deteriorated. Although there is no doubt that obesity is likely to cause disability, especially in the old age (Ferrucci & Alley, 2007), the question still remains whether obesity itself should be qualified as a disability.
However, if all facts and demands of obese people themselves are analyzed, there is only one logical conclusion that can be reached. It is that obesity is not a disability.
Firstly, obese people claim that they are as ordinary as any other citizens and demand to be treated as such. Obese people call it discrimination when because of their weight an employer is reluctant to hire them or fires them for the same reason. The claims state that they are as functional as any other employees (Fahy, 2013) and that their weight cannot be considered to be a limitation of any kind. Consequently, if it is not a limitation, it cannot be considered to be a disability
Secondly, the term of toxic-food environment has been introduced almost twenty years ago. Battle and Brownell defined it as a social state that fosters “obesity and unprecedented food consumption” (1996). There is no doubt that people today are encouraged by advertisements and corporate marketing campaigns to make unhealthy choices. However, it is the third of the population that is obese. Two thirds manage to overcome the effects of the toxic-food environment, make healthy choices, do sport, and keep fit. Although there is unfavorable social influence, the choice is still made by the people. Thus, except for the rare cases when obesity results from an illness, an obese person makes the decision to eat more than necessary and to have an unhealthy diet. It should not be overlooked that this decision is an informed one because there is more than enough data on the dangers of obesity and information revealing marketing strategies that are used to lure people into buying unhealthy products.
One may argue that eating too much is a weakness or even an addiction that obese people have. Consequently, they cannot be blamed for it. However, the same applies to alcoholics. Some of them started drinking because of some serious stress or complex life problems. Although, there are special centers for people who have a drinking problem, no one tries to call them disabled. At a closer inspection, it is clear that the problem is the same for both these groups: they abuse something. For ones, it is food, for the others alcoholic beverages, but abuse stays abuse.
Having established that free will is at the core of obesity problems, there is a reasonable question why obese people should not be held accountable for their own unhealthy choices. If the society pronounces obesity to be a disability, then special conditions are to be provided for obese people. This will result in significant a change in many fields, airline companies’ policy, for example. The companies will be forced to provide the second seat for free for obese people. Thus, airline companies will be obliged to pay for an obese person’s choice to eat in excess.
Nowadays, however, the situation is not much better. Although, some psychologists state that obese people suffer emotionally (Puhl, Schwartz, & Brownell, 2005) because of the awkward situation that they face in daily life, people around may suffer no less. In 2011, a man had to remain standing for seven hours on one of domestic flights from Anchorage to Philadelphia because an obese man in the next seat could not fit in just one seat (Moran & Duell, 2011). This was not only uncomfortable and tiring for the first man, Mr. Berkowitz, but actually dangerous, because he was forced to remain standing even at the takeoff and landing of the plane. What this situation demonstrates is that the affected party was Mr. Berkowitz. Even though, it can be supposed that the obese passenger greatly suffered from emotional discomfort because he made the other passenger abandon his sit. However, hardly can anyone argue that Mr. Berkowitz’s discomfort was more considerable. Basically, the passenger was forced to give up the seat that he had paid for because of another person’s choice, which is more than unfair. In a way, Mr. Berkowitz was punished for his healthy choices.
Without any doubt, the increasing number of obese people is a crucial problem that demands public attention and urgent measures that can help reverse the trend. Although, the change of people’s lifestyle is part of the problem, toxic-food environment is also an important factor that influences eating habits. However, these reasons are insufficient to consider obesity to be a disability. The root of the obesity problem lies in the choices that people make. This means that obese people should take responsibility for their own decisions and are not to be treated as disabled because of their excessive weight.