Driving to work today I was listening to a radio show I and they were talking about whether fat people should be allowed to get a free seat on airplanes because they can’t fit in the normal seat. They have one guy on the show who is 400 pounds and he was saying that this should be allowed. The rest were against him and the callers had mixed views.
Airlines in Canada are dealing with this issue right now, trying to figure out how to carry out a ruling passed last January that requires them to accommodate disabled and obese passengers when they need an additional seat or an attendant to accompany them. The Canadian Transportation Agency ruled that airline carriers should charge all passengers the same fare and not make people pay extra when they need an extra seat for medical reasons. The Canadian Supreme Court decided not to hear the airline’s appeal so the decision stands and airlines must comply by January 10, 2009.
I admit, I have flown on some planes where it was uncomfortable for me. I have never needed an extra seat, but sometimes it was hard to squish into little planes while trying not to invade the space of my neighbors.
I feel like though if you absolutely need another seat you should pay for it. Tall people don’t get a free extra seat to stretch out their legs when they are crammed into little airplanes. So maybe obese people should just pay for that extra seat. Or at least half of the price. Or airlines should make passengers pay per weight like they do for baggage and anyone over a certain weight limit must pay extra. Or airlines should make adjustments and have a row or two of bigger seats that obese people can purchase.
But all this leaves me wondering: is obesity really a disability?
I am not someone that wants to discriminate against obese people, especially since I am obese according to my BMI. But I have trouble with labeling obesity as a disease.
I understand that once you reach a certain level of obesity you will be disabled from doing things. Your body won’t work as well as it should and you can’t do everything a normal sized healthy person can. But should obesity, something that is preventable and treatable, be considered a disease itself?
People that have other disabilities, say blindness for example, cannot eliminate their disability as easily as someone who is obese. Also, labeling obesity as a disease is almost an impossible thing to do. With so many people in varying stages of being overweight and obese, where does the disability begin? With a BMI of 40? With a weight minimum of 400 pounds? Even then, there are some people that weigh 400 pounds that don’t feel disabled and get around fine. Others at the same weight require scooters or other help to get around.
However, in the U.S., groups are lobbying for laws to prevent discrimination based on weight.
“There’s tons of research about it, documenting everything from employment discrimination – wages are lower – to health-care discrimination. People get terrible treatment from doctors. There are surveys of nurses saying they don’t want to touch fat people,” says Anna Kirkland, author of Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood, and an assistant professor in women’s studies and political science at the University of Michigan.
There is discrimination against obese people in the work force. (Although that article uses the job of firefighters which I think is a terrible example. Firefighters have to be in shape to do their job and it is ridiculous to think an obese person would feel discriminated against because of that since firefighters work hard to make their bodies capable for the job.) People discriminate against obese people often thinking they are lazy, unable to exert self control, etc.
Would classifying obesity as a disease take the stigma away? Would discrimination against fat people vanish or even lessen?
I am obese. But I don’t feel disabled and wouldn’t want to be labeled as that. I don’t think it is a disease necessarily.
Perhaps clinical obesity is a disease. Perhaps obesity is more of an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia (considering the eating habits of many obese people I agree with this more). Perhaps obesity is a disease in the same way alcoholism is a disease.
So what do you think? If you’re too big to fit into an airline seat, should you be allowed two for the price of one? Is obesity a disease?