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Obesity and Social Security Disability

Obesity - Condition and Symptoms

Obesity is a condition in which the food taken in by an individual exceeds the amount of energy expended to the extent that the person experiences an excessive amount of weight gain. A person with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 and over is considered to have morbid Obesity. Individuals with morbid Obesity are often susceptible to other life-threatening health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and hypertension.

Often referred to as a disease, Obesity is actually a sign of what may well be a spectrum of different kinds of genetic and environmental disorders. There is no single definition of Obesity. The most common definition of obesity is an extreme degree of overweight. However, you can be overweight without being obese because it depends on how much body fat you carry. A person in a normal weight range can have little muscle mass, lots of excess fat, and be classified as obese.

Obesity therefore refers to an excess of total body fat, rather than just weight. In order to calculate your body mass index, follow these steps:

  • Multiply your weight in pounds by 705; divide by your height in inches; divide this number by your height in inches a second time.

A normal BMI = 18.5-24.9; overweight = 25.0-29.9; obese = 30 or greater; and morbidly obese = 40 or greater. The cause of Obesity is not simply overeating but a complex of factors. Many believe that the underlying condition may be genetic, and note that dieting and exercise have limited results. Other contributing factors to morbid Obesity include sedentary lifestyle, stress, sleep disturbance, eating disorders, sluggish metabolism, or possibly a thyroid condition. Treatment may include changes in diet, exercise, medications, and possibly surgical intervention such as a gastric bypass.

In addition to a BMI of 40 and over, other symptoms of morbid Obesity are generally disorders caused by excessive body fat, which puts a strain on the body’s systems. It is common for an obese individual to have trouble with high blood pressure, liver and kidney problems, heart disease, and stroke, as well as musculoskeletal issues such as arthritis. In addition, morbidly obese people often suffer depression and low self-esteem. These problems and others must be treated if they exist, or dietary habits and weight loss surgery must be considered to avoid them before they manifest.

Filing for Social Security Disability with an Obesity Diagnosis

Unfortunately, there is no listing for Obesity in Social Security’s guide to disabling conditions (also known as the “Blue Book”), so proving total disability and achieving disability benefits because of a diagnosis of Obesity can be difficult because there are no specific criteria for approval. However, this was not always the case. In the past, the SSA did recognize Obesity as a disabling condition, provided that certain height and weight requirements were met, and also that the condition was severe enough to cause other related impairments, such as arthritis, chronic poor circulation, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, etc. It may be prudent to take into consideration these requirements when you apply for disability benefits.

In considering your disability claim, the SSA bases its assessment of the severity of your condition on your ability to move about, how your symptoms limit you, the extent of your treatment, and how your treatment affects you.

Although there is no listing for Obesity, there are conditions that result from Obesity that qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, including nephropathy (Obesity is hard on the kidneys, and makes it difficult for them to filter impurities out of the blood), diminished visual capacity or blindness, and hypertension, which can result in hardening of the arteries, chronic shortness of breath, or congestive heart failure.

When you file for disability, it is important that you obtain medical records which include an exact diagnosis of your condition and evidence in support of the criteria discussed above.

Because there is no entry in the Blue Book for Obesity, it is possible that the SSA does not consider the condition disabling by itself. A significant number of people who file for disability benefits list Obesity as the primary disabling condition but not as the only disabling condition.

Meeting the requirements of a listing is one way for your disability claim to be approved. The other way is to qualify for a medical vocational allowance.

Your Obesity Disability Case

If you are disabled because of Obesity so severe that it prevents you from working, you may well be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. Although total disability based on a Obesity condition can be difficult to prove compared to other disabling conditions, working closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security Disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation to support your disability claim in front of the Disability Determination Services (DDS) can help ensure that your Obesity disability case will have the highest possible chance of success.