Obese Italians win landmark benefit ruling

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The Independent Online

Italy has opened the door to a massive pay day for the seriously overweight following a ruling by the Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal, that the obese are entitled to invalidity pensions.

Italy has opened the door to a massive pay day for the seriously overweight following a ruling by the Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal, that the obese are entitled to invalidity pensions.

Nearly half of the Italian population is said to be overweight, and about 10 per cent - 5.4 million people - are clinically obese. But until this week the drastically overweight, whose bulk prevents them from working and living normal lives, were unable to obtain any financial relief from the state: the degree of invalidity caused by obesity was fixed at 40 per cent by a decree of the Minister of Finance in 1992. An actual payout, as opposed to a notional but useless official acknowledgement of invalidity, only kicks in when the percentage of invalidity reaches 74 per cent.

But on Tuesday the nation's highest court signalled what Italian newspapers were calling "a revolution" when it described obesity as an illness and rejected the 1992 decree. The bench ruled that the entitlement of very fat people to help should be calculated case by case, depending on the individual degree of incapacity.

The case was brought by a woman identified as Rita G from Turin, who though only 1.5m (4ft 11in) tall weighs 130kg (286lb), with most of the weight concentrated on her legs. The case was described to the court by a technical consultant as "gynoid with elephantiasic aspect at the thighs". She took her case to the court after a tribunal twice rejected her plea.

Ruling in her favour, the bench declared that "a situation like that of Rita G requires a direct inquiry to ascertain the degree of invalidity, without referring to the limits specified [in the minister's decree]."

The judges said that the decision on individual cases should be based on the individual's corporeal mass, a figure obtained by dividing the person's weight in kilograms by his or her height in metres squared. In the case of Rita G, the result is the extraordinary figure of 57.7, while the normal parameters of invalidity through obesity are between 35 and 40.

Nicola Basso, a surgeon at Rome's La Sapienza University specialising in obesity, said the court's ruling would bring hope to between one and 1.5 million Italians who suffer from extreme obesity.

Ottavio Bosello, former president of the Italian Society against Obesity, told Corriere della Sera newspaper: "It is a very important judgment. To be extremely fat is not the same as having the sin of gluttony or laziness, as many today still think. It means to be afflicted with serious problems." Medical conditions to which the very obese are vulnerable include diabetes, hypertension, tumours and heart problems.

Obesity is increasing rapidly right across Western Europe, and, says Mr Bosello, it is more than an epidemic in Italy.

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