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Open season on obese people must end

The Brandon Sun - 11/14/2017

It is no longer acceptable in our society to discriminate against people based on their age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

It is also illegal.

But it's a different story when it comes to people considered overweight or obese, a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to such an extent that a person's health may be adversely affected.

While human rights codes protect most groups from discrimination, it continues to be open season on the overweight and obese, arguably the last group society allows to be openly ridiculed and denied services provided to everyone else.

Not only are the overweight subjected to cruel jokes and taunts, they are also too often denied vital health care unless they lose weight first. For example, it was reported recently that a local health authority in the United Kingdom has decided to withhold non-emergency surgery from people who are obese.

Overweight passengers have also been forced on some airlines to pay for an extra seat because of their size.

River Heights Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard, a medical doctor, recently tried to do something about the problem, introducing a private member's bill that would have broadened the province's human rights code to ban discrimination based on physical size or weight. His bill also would have extended protection to people with dwarfism.

Gerrard noted overweight people need protection because they are frequently bullied, shamed, passed over for promotions or denied health-care services. "It's particularly problematic in the health-care system, from the literature, but it is also a problem in workplaces," the former Liberal leader said.

But Gerrard's bill was shot down by the Manitoba government, with members of the Progressive Conservative caucus arguing it was too vague and difficult to enforce.

They said the wording "physical size or weight" was problematic.

Tory Dennis Smook was reported as saying Gerrard's bill seemed to run counter to the province's efforts to encourage people to live healthier lifestyles and reduce obesity rates.

Using that sort of twisted logic, Manitoba would also refuse to provide health care to smokers on the grounds it would run counter to the province's efforts to combat cancer.

The Pallister government missed a golden opportunity here to extend well-deserved protection to a large group of Manitobans -- one in four adult Canadians, or about 6.3 million people, were deemed obese in 2011-12, according to Statistics Canada. The obesity level in Manitoba was 27.7 per cent, above the national average.

The time has come to make it clear that discriminating against someone because they exceed a certain body mass index value is no longer acceptable.

Some Manitobans are doing their best to improve the care provided to people branded "fat." Three Winnipeg women recently created a website, Good Fat Care, aimed at helping people locate health-care providers and professionals who focus on people, not their weight. It asks health professionals to take a pledge that they will not engage in weight-related discrimination.

No one should face ridicule, or be denied service, because someone else thinks they are carrying too many pounds, and it's hard to understand why the Manitoba government finds that simple notion hard to swallow.

The Conservatives need to revisit this matter and, pun intended, weigh in on the side of justice for all.

ยป Winnipeg Free Press


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