Does Obesity Automatically Qualify You For Social Security Disability?

If you are like most people, you may have heard that obesity is a disability that qualifies someone for Social Security Disability Benefits.You may have wondered if this is really true. The answer is not as simple as it may seem. While obesity used to be listed as an impairment with the Social Security Administration, it was removed in 1999, says NOLO. Currently, obesity may be a contributing factor to winning a disability claim, but it is rarely grounds for disability on its own. That means an obese person may claim that his obesity makes existing conditions worse and receive an award of disability benefits, but obesity by itself does not make a person disabled in the eyes of the SSA.

What is obesity?

Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) over 30 percent. Those with a BMI over 40 percent are considered morbidly obese. According to NOLO, these numbers can be deceiving and need the input of a medical professional, as BMI alone does not determine whether the person is healthy at that weight. Muscular individuals may have a high BMI, even though they have a low-fat ratio. Likewise, a person with a low BMI may have a disproportionate amount of body fat. 

What is metabolic syndrome?

Obesity is often part of a condition called metabolic syndrome. People with metabolic syndrome suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance - which may lead to diabetes - and elevated triglyceride levels.While it has long been believed that obesity causes the accompanying symptoms, some medical professionals question this assumption. The syndrome may be caused by an unknown factor with obesity as one of the manifestations of the disease. At any rate, this condition may aggravate other medical conditions, such as arthritis, or severely limit the person's ability to work. 

So, how does all this effect a disability claim?

Because obesity is no longer listed as an impairment with the SSA, any effects it has on an individual's ability to work must be documented and proven to be equal to listed impairments, or shown to contribute to, or cause, other listed impairments. For example, if obesity worsens the pain or affects the mobility of someone with a degenerative joint disease, the person may be found qualified for Social Security Disability benefits if he is unable to perform the tasks necessary to his current job and is deemed unlikely to be able to adjust to a new profession.

What other factors affect a disability claim?

The SSA also uses 'grid rules' to help determine if a person is disabled under their regulations. These rules include the person's level of education and training, the skill level of his last job and whether those skills are transferable to another form of work. The person's physical functioning is also considered. The grid rules become more lenient with age, as the SSA recognizes it is easier for a younger person to transition to new employment areas than it is for an older person. The grid rules are divided by age of under 50, 50 to 55, 55 to 59 and over 60.

The bottom line

Obesity that causes limitations equal to a recognized SSA impairment may qualify a person for disability benefits. However, it is most often considered  a contributing factor that exacerbates or aggravates existing conditions. The cause of obesity is not a determining factor when considering whether it creates a disability. It is the effect obesity has on a person's ability to hold down a job that determines whether the individual qualifies for disability benefits through SSA. While some people qualify for disability benefits because their obesity prevents them from performing work tasks, many qualify because their obesity worsens an existing medical condition that interferes with their ability to work.

If you have more questions about disability claims, you may want to contact a disability lawyer in your area.