An Imperfect Fit: Obesity, Public Health, and Disability Anti-Discrimination Law

56 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2008

See all articles by Adam R. Pulver

Adam R. Pulver

Public Citizen Litigation Group; Columbia University - Law School

Date Written: November 30, 2007


Over the past several years, "obesity activists," as well as many disability rights and critical legal theorists, have increasingly argued for the inclusion of obesity as a "disability" under anti-discrimination law, particularly the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At the same time, public health leaders, both inside and outside the legal field, continue to promote active interventions to combat the growing prevalence of obesity in America, which they see as a major health problem. These two campaigns are not complementary, and in many ways are antithetical to one another.

This article explores the inherent tensions between a campaign to reduce obesity in the American population and the calls of obesity activists to "normalize" their weight, particularly through the protection of disability anti-discrimination law. After examining how obesity fails to qualify as a disability under existing federal law, the article examines why making obesity a protected class may have negative public health outcomes for the population.

Keywords: obesity, disability, ADA, public health, law and economics, deterrence, fat, overweight, discrimination, disabilities, anti-discrimination, antidiscrimination

JEL Classification: M50, M51, K31, K32, J7, J71, J78, J2, J00, I00, I1, I12, I18

Suggested Citation

Pulver, Adam R., An Imperfect Fit: Obesity, Public Health, and Disability Anti-Discrimination Law (November 30, 2007). Available at SSRN: or

Adam R. Pulver (Contact Author)

Public Citizen Litigation Group ( email )

1600 20th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
United States

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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