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Can I Continue Working with Obesity?

Obesity is a rising problem within the United States, with over 1/3 of adults in the country classified as obese. Obesity is characterized by having enough excess body fat to cause or aggravate health problems. Obese people are more likely than others to deal with health problems such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Asthma
  • Type II Diabetes
  • Cancer (some types)
  • Arthritis

The most common causes of obesity are overeating and lack of exercise (sedentary lifestyle), though there can also be other factors or causes, including genetics, medications, psychiatric disorders, and other diseases.

For Social Security purposes, you are generally considered obese if your BMI (body mass index) is 30 or higher. You are considered morbidly obese if your BMI is 40 or higher. Even these numbers are not set in stone, however, as they ultimate determination for whether you are considered obese by the SSA will depend on how much of your body mass is muscle and how much of it is actually fat.

How Obesity Affects Your Physical Capacity for Work

In and of itself, obesity does not prohibit most people from performing physical work. The effects of obesity often do, however. How and to what degree obesity limits your ability to perform physical work (and what kind of jobs you could feasibly do) depends more on the effects of obesity on you than on your BMI or other measurements of your obesity.

For example, if your obesity has caused (or aggravated) cardiovascular problems, you may be limited in how much you can exert yourself without risking serious health complications. This could limit your ability to perform any type of heavy physical work. If, on the other hand, your obesity causes you to have (or aggravates) osteoarthritis, it may severely impair your ability to perform fine motor movements, effectively making many types of light physical work impossible for you.

The effects of obesity on your joints and muscles can make many types of physical work impossible, as can the effects of obesity on your respiratory system. There are many factors which go into determining obesity’s effect on your ability to perform physical work, and each of them should be considered in determining what types of physical work (if any) that you could potentially perform.

How Obesity Affects Your Mental Capacity for Work

Obesity is often (though not always) associated with mental and psychological disorders, such as depression. While obesity does not, in and of itself, directly affect your capacity to perform tasks which are primarily mental or to perform in social situations, it may very well lead to (or be the result of) conditions which do affect your ability to perform mentally on the job site.

Obesity and Applying for Social Security Disability

Until 1999, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognized obesity as an actual medical condition which could qualify you for disability benefits. These days, obesity does not, in and of itself, qualify you for disability benefits. However, your obesity can still play an important role in getting your disability claim approved. In general, you will need to show that the effects of your disability make it unreasonable to expect you to perform any kind of employment available for which you are qualified or could be reasonably trained.

When you file for disability benefits, you will need to show all of the medical or mental conditions which contribute to your disability, whether they are related to your obesity or not. The SSA will consider the sum total of your disabling conditions and determine whether you could reasonably perform any kind of work. You will especially want to provide medical evidence regarding the effects of obesity on any weight bearing joints, on your cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and on your mental health, as these all factor in to the SSA’s decisions regarding your disability claim.