A 50-year-old, 286-pound South African man working as a chef in New Zealand faces deportation because he is obese, according to reports.
Albert Buitenhuis has lived in New Zealand for six years. He has lost more than 60 pounds and lowered his blood pressure since he entered the country, but New Zealand authorities now say they may not renew his work visa because he could pose too big a cost to the country's healthcare system, which is free to all permanent residents.
Buitenhuis and his wife, Marthie, were told in May that their annual work visas, which had previously been renewed with no problems, would not be extended for a seventh year. Buitenhuis has appealed, although he is not allowed to work during the appeals process. A decision on the case is reportedly due within a week.
"The irony is that at the moment he weighs less than he [did] when we first arrived in New Zealand," Marthie told The Press last month. He had to report his weight to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) when he applied to move to the country, and they accepted him at the time. An INZ spokesperson told The Press that Buitenhuis's obesity put him at "significant risk" of diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, joint disease (he does currently suffer from an issue with his knee) and other dangerous health conditions.
Even more of an irony, INZ's action came just a few weeks before the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) release its annual obesity report, which found that New Zealand is the world's third-most obese country.
New Zealanders have not been kind to Buitenhuis since this came to light a few weeks ago. Online commenters have called him lazy and a slob. He told The Press last week that he felt "hurt and disheartened" by the online abuse. ''No matter how brave fat people act, acceptance is what makes all of us tick," he said. ''Weight is very personal and all overweight people are constantly reminded by reflections of how big they are. You don't need people to tell you that you are fat; you can see it for yourself.''
Despite the personal attacks, the chef says he is staying positive, and he invited other people struggling with weight loss to contact him to see what he has done so far to lose weight. ''Everybody has situations in their lives they need to conquer and I personally think it will be for the good of all if we focus on compliments instead of nasty comments," he told the paper.
To reduce obesity in the country, New Zealand is taking steps other than deporting overweight foodies. A "fat tax" was recently proposed that would add $1 to the cost of a pack of butter. Studies have shown that the average Kiwi gets 13 percent of his or her daily energy from saturated fats, about 3 percent more than recommended.
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