Can I qualify for Social Security Disability benefits due to obesity?

March 1, 2022 in
SSDI Application Process | Help with Social Security Disability | LaBovick Law Group of West Palm Beach, Florida

Obesity is an increasingly common condition in the United States involving an excessive amount of body fat. It is caused by the increase in the size and the number of fat cells in the body. Obesity is a medical problem that increases the risk of other diseases and health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and high blood pressure. Obesity can also cause complications such as metabolic syndrome, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and sleep disorders. Additional impacts include back pain, non-alcoholic liver disease, osteoarthritis, urinary incontinence, and emotional health issues such as low self-esteem or depression. Obesity is often diagnosed by a measure called the BMI (body mass index). The BMI is calculated by multiplying a person’s weight in pounds by 703, dividing by height in inches, and then dividing again by height in inches. Another method of calculating BMI is to divide the weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. There are also online calculators and BMI index charts available online which are used to determine whether one’s height and weight fall within the BMI range for obesity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, obesity is defined by a BMI measuring 30.0 or higher. Additionally, obesity is frequently divided into subcategories. Individuals with a BMI measuring 30 to 34.9 fall under class 1, BMI measuring 35 to 39.9 fall into class 2, and BMI measuring 40.0 or above fall under class 3. Class 3 obesity is sometimes categorized as “severe” obesity. Note that BMI does not measure body fat directly, but is moderately correlated with more direct measures of body fat obtained from skinfold thickness measurements, underwater weighing, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, or bioelectrical impedance. In 2017-2018, the obesity prevalence in the United States was 42.4 percent.

Considering that obesity may result in serious negative effects on one’s health, could a person qualify for Social Security Disability benefits on the basis of obesity? The answer is somewhat complex. In the past, obesity was included in Social Security’s listing of impairments, where one could qualify for Social Security Disability benefits on the basis of obesity alone if one met the weight criteria listed plus had a history of pain and limitation of motion in any weight-bearing joint or the spine associated with findings on medically accepted imaging of arthritis, hypertension with diastolic blood pressure persistently in excess of 100 mm. Hg, history of congestive heart failure, chronic venous insufficiency with pain on weight-bearing and persistent edema, or respiratory disease. However, the listing for obesity was deleted from the list of impairments on August 24, 1999. According to the Social Security Administration, obesity was eliminated from the listing of impairments because the criteria in the listing were not appropriate indicators of listing level severity and did not represent a degree of functional limitation that would prevent an individual from engaging in any gainful activity. Thus, the current regulations do not permit an individual to qualify for disability benefits on the basis of obesity alone.

However, Social Security still considers obesity to be a medically determinable impairment. The reason for including obesity as a medically determinable impairment is that people with obesity have a higher risk for other impairments, and the effects of obesity combined with other impairments may be greater than the effects of the impairments alone without obesity present.

If you are suffering from a medical condition that prevents you from performing normal work activity, you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, and your chance of approval may be impacted if your BMI is over 30. Social Security Disability benefits are available to those who have worked and paid taxes on their earnings for 5 of the past 10 years and have a condition that lasts or is expected to last for at least one year or result in death.

Social Security follows a 5 step process when evaluating your disability claim. First, Social Security will confirm that you have not engaged in work activity with substantial earnings since the date which you state you became disabled, known as your alleged onset date. Next, Social Security will determine whether you have a severe impairment. As discussed above, obesity alone is not a severe impairment that will qualify you for disability benefits. However, if you have an impairment that is potentially associated with obesity, such as type II diabetes, heart or vascular disease, respiratory impairments such as sleep apnea or asthma, osteoarthritis, depression, or certain cancers, then obesity will be considered as an additional impairment. To establish obesity as a medically determinable impairment, SSA will consider medical evidence from your providers and calculate your BMI based upon the height and weight stated in your medical records. SSA is required to consider any symptoms associated with obesity when determining whether it is a severe impairment, such as fatigue or pain. These symptoms must be those which would inhibit a person’s ability to do basic work activities.

The next step in the process is for Social Security to assess your residual functional capacity, which is the most an adult can do both physically and mentally despite their limitations. Social Security will determine whether you have limitations in how long you can stand, walk, carry, lift, push, pull, and sit. Here, Social Security is required to include the impact obesity may have on these limitations due to stress on weight-bearing joints and limitations on the range of motion, ability to tolerate extreme heat, humidity, or hazards, or use the hands if there is adipose tissue in the hands and fingers.

Once SSA determines your residual functional capacity, it will then consider if you can perform your past jobs. If you cannot perform your past jobs, SSA will then determine whether there are other jobs that you can perform. If you are unable to perform any jobs with your limitations, you will be found disabled.

Social Security’s regulations are often very complex and require an understanding of their nuances in order to win your case. The attorneys at LaBovick Law Group are ready to assist you with your claim and get you the benefits you deserve. Give us a call at (561) 625-8400 for a free case evaluation.