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New Zealand's solution for rising health costs? Deportation

Nick M. Do | E+ | Getty Images

New Zealand's immigration authorities think they have gotten to the core of solving the obesity epidemic and rising health costs—deport fat people. A 50-year-old, 286-pound South African citizen no longer has an "acceptable standard of health" to remain in the country where nearly a third of adults are overweight, according to reports.

Albert Buitenhuis and his wife, Marthie, 47, moved to Christchurch, New Zealand, from South Africa six years ago. They are now facing deportation after their work visas were declined because of his weight. New Zealand immigration authorities cited the demands his obesity could place on New Zealand's health services in terms of cost.

When Albert, 5' 8", arrived to take a job as a chef, he topped 350 pounds. Yet he has worked, as has his waitress wife, paid taxes and managed to lose more than 60 pounds, according to The Press of New Zealand. His doctor says Buitenhuis, who has a chronic knee condition, is on his way to getting his blood pressure down and his weight under control.

For the first five years, no one seemed to think that Albert could not fit in New Zealand. But, suddenly, the authorities have decided he must leave. His wife, who is not obese, is on his work visa, so she must follow him to the loading dock.

The associate immigration minister of New Zealand is expected to decide on the case in the next week.

Albert is appealing his deportation. And he should. While some nations such as the U.S. tried to prevent immigration for those who were HIV positive that was mainly due to worries about contagion. Obesity, while recently categorized by the American Medical Association as a disease, is not contagious.

New Zealand, as far as is known, is not trying to get rid of smokers—who are both costly to care for and can harm others—or those who have herpes or other sexually transmitted diseases.

New Zealand immigration laws don't specifically mention weight as cause for deportation, but list medical conditions such as HIV, hepatitis B or cardiac diseases "deemed to impose significant costs and/or demands" on the country's health or education services.

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New Zealand's health-care system, funded through general taxes, provides free medical care to all permanent residents.

Some think New Zealand is on the right track. New Zealand may believe publicly shaming the bloated is a solution to the obesity epidemic or escalation of health-care costs. But deporting Albert, especially while he is losing weight, looks for all the world like a sudden attack of unbridled prejudice.

—Art Caplan, Ph.D., NBC News contributor.

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