Is This Man Too Fat to Live in New Zealand?

New Zealand is on its way to deporting a chef who has lived in the country for seven years. Why? Because he’s fat.

Albert Buitenhuis and his wife’s applications to renew their annual work visas have been denied. New Zealand’s excuse is that he will be a drain on its health system. ”It is important that all migrants have an acceptable standard of health to minimize costs and demands on New Zealand’s health services,” the country’s immigration minister said. It seems the country equates health with skinniness.

Here in the U.S., discriminating based on weight is encouraged by our political leaders for the same reasons New Zealand cites. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers an obesity cost calculator to impress upon employers the belief that hiring and providing medical insurance for an obese job applicant will cost them more than hiring someone slimmer. There are 72 million obese Americans — that is a lot of people to push out of the workforce and into poverty.

This discrimination is not backed up by science. The trope that fat causes disease, or even is one itself, is a tired stereotype so deeply embedded in our culture that it serves as the premise of an article in The New York Times without comment or caveat (“Exercise promotes health [by] reducing most people’s risks of…growing obese”).

The truth is that fat people are not necessarily unhealthy.

The same CDC that pushes employers not to hire obese workers “found no evidence that being overweight or moderately obese as an adult increases the risk of death.” Rather, it “found quite the opposite,” Newsweek reports. The CDC’s paper concluded that not only was there no correlation between overweight and “excess mortality,” but that there was a correlation between overweight and “slightly reduced mortality.” Fat people were less likely to die than people of so-called “normal” weight. Moderately obese people didn’t fare quite as well, but they did no worse than underweight people.

Another stereotype-busting nugget: after general surgery, overweight and moderately obese patients survived more often and recovered faster than those with normal weight. Their mortality rates were 15% lower (for overweight) and 27% lower (for moderately obese) than normal-weight patients.

The best part is the theory of one of the CDC paper’s co-authors that moderately obese and overweight patients did so well “because they are less nutritionally depleted.” In other words, they may be better nourished than slimmer people. Maybe they aren’t eating just junk food.

Actions like New Zealand’s work-visa rejection and the CDC’s obesity cost calculator may be worse for our health than fat is. Stigmatizing and condemning people for being overweight, while scaring the crap out of them about dire health risks, drives them to diet. Most dieters who lose weight gain it back, and many get caught in the loss-gain-loss-gain cycle of yo-yo dieting. This “weight cycling” is worse for people’s health than staying at one stable, “fat” weight.

The two countries’ attempts to deprive fat people of medical insurance echo HMOs’ long-held refusal to cover conditions a new member already knows she has. Excluding pre-existing conditions from coverage (which Obamacare now blocks insurance companies from doing) leaves sick people to foot the bill for the diseases they have. Protecting health insurance schemes, whether national or privatized, from having to insure fat people is a similar attempt to promote profit at the expense of people’s health — though on top of being evil it is misguided, since fat people don’t necessarily cost more to insure than thin ones.

What New Zealand is doing to Buitenhuis parallels an even more repellent HMO practice: quietly canceling members’ coverage when they do become sick, as documented in Michael Moore’s film “Sicko.” Once NZ officials realized that Buitenhuis was fat, they effectively cut him from their insurance rolls. Perhaps they should have given him a discount instead based on the studies showing that he may be healthier than New Zealanders of normal weight.


Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock


Fiona Stonehouse
Fiona Stonehouse3 years ago

Albert Buitenhuis and his wife have been allowed to stay in NZ and pick up the tattered pieces of their lives having spent their life savings just to stay afloat in NZ while the government made the decision on whether or not they could continue to work and live here. That decision was made some time ago now (a couple of months?) and I haven't heard how they are doing but they will no doubt be working hard and helping to keep morale up as Christchurch rebuilds itself.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani3 years ago

To Pamela W. - is there anything that can be done? Like launching a petition? I don't have the time to formulate one (I'm kept busy with our problems) but I'd gladly help in disseminating it and naturally sign it.

Good luck to them!

Pamela W.
Pamela W3 years ago

Too bad the NZ authorities are apparently "dragging their feet" on this matter.
Appeal decision still not rendered but, for an update on this, go to ...............

Disgusting state of affairs which, I've since found out, came about because they were making an application for PERMANENT RESIDENCY. In other words, they were doing things the correct way and are being penalised as a result !!!!! As I said ...... DISGUSTING !!!!

Christina B.
Christina B3 years ago

@Matt P.

Thank you for pointing out the obvious. Thank you even more for knowing the difference between mortality and morbidity. I would definitely send you a green star.

Christina B.
Christina B3 years ago

I feel like the author of this article is trying to convince us that being obese or overweight is actually not that bad for your health. To support her views, she offers us one (ONE) paper linking obesity to (decreased?) *mortality*, but nowhere does she stop to consider the link between obesity and *morbidity*, the incidence of ill health in a population (in this case, the obese). Her claims are ridiculous, to say the least, but then again, it's not uncommon for a few Care2 writers to blow things way out of proportion in order to support their arguments.

The way I see it, things are simple:

-- Is being obese bad for your health?

-- Should New Zealand deport anyone for being fat?

-- Should obese people (as well as smokers or binge drinkers) pay more for health insurance?
YES, because their chances of getting sick are severely increased compared to those with normal weight/non-smokers/non-drinkers. It's only logical that, if you want to do something that's unhealthy for you, you must be ready to face the consequences. Unlike those genetically predisposed to diseases, such as asthma or cancer, who don't get to choose what genes they carry, obese people/smokers/drinkers are practically inviting disease to their bodies.
Should we abandon them to their fate? No.
Should we encourage them to drop their unhealthy habits? Definitely. But until they do, it's only logical that they pay more. Calling that discrimination is just a way of ignoring rea

Laine V.
Laine V3 years ago

Pamela W. I don't comment if I haven't read whole article and all comments.

About visa, I don't say that that is right or fare. But every country can make it's own rules. Decide (make law), does applicant have same rules to get visa every year or rules changes for him, when rules are changed.

Finding articles just about chef, but no laws, requirements does not gives enough info to be objective. For example, if person has TB he cannot get residence for work visa, has been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. Is this discrimination? I think, no, it is not. In every country there will be criminals, people with "high costing" diseases etc. So why should they let more people with this problems in their country? Being citizen of some country gives you privileges, then you can be obese in New Zealand =)

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani3 years ago

To Pamela - thanks for the additional links. So - in NZ out of 4 one is obese ... what do they do with their New Zealanders who are obese? Do they force them to go on diet i.e. starve them till they fit the picture? Are they kicked out to where? This is so ridiculous. I just hope that the appeal of A Buitenhuis is successful.

Pamela W.
Pamela W3 years ago

B. J. ..... 8:44PM PDT on Aug 5, 2013

"Before any more people over-exercise by flying off the handle and jumping to conclusions, what is the rest of this story?" .......

Is searching Google (or other sources) too much excercise for YOU ?
I've done a little "leg work" for you and any others who WANT further info ....

There is more - but these should help "supplement" the article for your benefit ......

B Jackson
BJ J3 years ago

Before any more people over-exercise by flying off the handle and jumping to conclusions, what is the rest of this story?

Pamela W.
Pamela W3 years ago

Magdalen B ......... Very good point - GS to you !!

Fiona S ..... Thanks for posting - great to have an opinion from someone who has some personal knowledge of this man and his wife !! Yes, a petition is a good idea - how about it Care2 ???

Laine V .......
"Pamela W., sure not all overweight, obese people are unhealthy and not all skinny, normal BMI people are healthy, but it is no reason to deny health issues mostly/partly caused by excess weight." ...........
Nobody denied that, especially not me !!!

" Why deny visa now not 6 years ago? Political changes in health systems politic should be considered."
So you feel that this is right ? Changes could be applied to NEW applicants - NOT to those who were previously acceptable ..... that's called "moving the goalposts" and is very unfair. This man has proved his worth to NZ by being a responsible member of his community, willing and able to work and pay taxes (and he's lost some weigh, don't forget, so is obviously a responsible person) - IMO a "model resident" and now he stands to lose everything, for a technicality totally beyond his control, that IS "discrimination" and VERY wrong !! I suggest you read the comment by Fiona S - it might enlighten you !!