ABC News’ Teddy Davis and Nancy Flores Report: Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson called Wednesday for obese Americans to be brought under the protection of the Americans for Disabilities Act.
"This is an issue of basic civil rights," said Richardson. "There are no federal laws that protect obese Americans from discrimination in the workplace, school, or anywhere else. This must change."
Asked how the A.D.A. would distinguish between obese Americans deserving of protection and merely overweight Americans, the New Mexico governor said he would defer such questions to specialists.
"Look, I’d let scientists determine that — nutritionists — you gotta be flexible. But it’s important to have obesity and somebody’s overweight not used as an excuse for discrimination," Richardson told ABC News. "But I’d let scientists, nutritionists determine that."
Richardson, who has managed to lose 30 lbs. since December 2006, made light of the fact that he was the only presidential candidate to address The Obesity Society. The group, whose membership includes 2,000 basic and clinic researchers, held a conference this week on the campus of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
"I noticed that none of the other presidential candidates are here today. I know they may not weigh as much as I do, but I still think you should have invited them," he quipped before adding: "But, in all seriousness, it’s a shame they couldn’t join us. No matter their weight, every American is affected by this quiet epidemic."
Even though the other presidential candidates did not speak to the group in person, they did send policy advisers to participate in a panel discussion on obesity.
In addition to pushing for obese Americans to be brought under the protection of the A.D.A. with oversight belonging to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Richardson also touted his plan for universal health coverage and called for "dramatically" boosting research efforts associated with obesity.
With an eye on phasing out the "freshman 15," Richardson would also like to see federal funds used to encourage colleges to offer physical education classes.
Richardson is not a newcomer to the obesity issue.
As governor of New Mexico, he banned junk food from being sold in vending machines in schools, he worked to ensure that children have access to a healthy breakfast, and he put a new emphasis on physical education.