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Obesity and Qualifying for Disability Benefits

Appealing for benefits is best done under the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

Author: Attorney Lonnie Roach
Updated: 7/16/2024

Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Obesity?

Obesity alone may not qualify for disability benefits. However, it is considered a medically determinable impairment when supported by objective medical evidence. Obesity can increase the risk of other medical disorders and may be as severe as a listed impairment when combined with another condition. Social Security associates obesity with various listed impairments such as diabetes, heart diseases, respiratory issues, osteoarthritis, mental health problems, and certain cancers. Complete medical records are essential for the application process.

Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Obesity?

Obesity is a complex medical condition which may impact an individual’s employment as well as their personal life. If you are unable to work because of obesity, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

Obesity and qualifying for disability benefits

Obesity is a complex disease characterized by an excess of body fat and develops when a person consumes more calories than they burn through exercise and daily activities.

The body then stores excess calories as fat. Though obesity can sometimes be traced to another medical condition, its causes usually involve behavioral, metabolic, genetic and hormonal influences. Obesity can lead to depression, social isolation and low work achievement as well as life-threatening medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. The good news is that obesity is highly treatable through diet and behavior changes, physical activity, medications, and weight loss procedures.

Even though obesity leads to a variety of health issues and can make it difficult for a person to maintain employment, by itself obesity may not qualify for Social Security Disability Income.

At one time, obesity was listed as an impairment in Social Security’s Blue book, but the listing was removed in 1999 because it was thought that many people with obesity were able to lead productive lives and earn a living. However, obesity is still considered a medically determinable impairment (MDI) “that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities” when there is objective medical evidence from an acceptable medical source. Social Security recognizes that individuals with obesity have a higher risk for other medical disorders and that obesity, alone or in combination with another medical condition, may be as severe as a listed impairment. In order to qualify today for SSDI with obesity, an applicant must be able to 1) meet or match a listing for another medical condition; or 2) provide evidence that their obesity causes or contributes to another listed impairment.

Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from Obesity. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!

How does Social Security determine that an applicant is obese?

No specific weight establishes obesity as a severe impairment.

A person is considered obese when their BMI (body mass index) measures 30 or higher. BMI is a measure of body fat calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of his or her height in meters (kg/m2). Social Security will calculate an individual’s BMI based on the medical evidence in their file, not an applicant’s self-reported height and weight. Social Security will determine that obesity is an MDI if an individual’s weight, waist size and BMI show a “consistent pattern of obesity” over time. In some cases a person with a large percentage of muscle, such as an athlete, will have a high BMI but they would not be considered obese. In other instances where a person’s BMI is normal, they may still be considered obese if their waist size is greater than 35 inches for a woman and greater than 40 inches for a man.

What impairments does Social Security associate with obesity?

Obesity is generally associated with musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular and endocrine disorders, but that does not mean an individual with obesity will necessarily develop any of those disorders.

Social Security associates the following listed impairments with obesity:

  •   Type II diabetes mellitus
  •    Diseases of the heart and blood vessels such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart attacks and stroke
  •   Respiratory impairments such as sleep apnea, asthma, and obesity hypoventilation syndrome
  •   Osteoarthritis
  •   Mental impairments such as depression
  •   Cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, colon, rectum, kidney endometrium, ovaries, gallbladder, breast or liver.

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When does Social Security consider obesity a “severe impairment” and how does Social Security evaluate obesity in relation to listed impairments?

When obesity, alone or combined with other medical disorders, significantly limits a person’s ability to perform basic work activities, Social Security determines obesity to be a “severe” impairment.

Social Security considers all symptoms that might limit a person’s physical and mental functionality such as fatigue, pain, mobility, and depression. Functional limitations resulting from obesity may increase the severity of a related medical disorder. For example, if an applicant suffers from arthritis in the knee, obesity may exacerbate their symptoms. Applicants often have more than one illness or injury that prevents them from working full time. By itself one disorder may not meet the requirements of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book. However, if an applicant has multiple medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit an applicant’s ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks. It should be noted, however, that Social Security does not assume that obesity combined with another medical condition will equal a listed impairment. Each case is evaluated on an individual basis.

What is the role of an RFC in evaluating obesity?

If an applicant’s obesity doesn’t meet the criteria of a listed impairment or cannot be combined with another impairment to equal a listing, Social Security will conduct a residual functional capacity assessment (RFC).

An RFC evaluates an applicant’s abilities despite their functional limitations, assessing a person’s ability to perform routine movement and necessary physical activity in a work environment. Obesity puts stress on weight-bearing joints and can limit a person’s range of motion in the spine and extremities. Social Security will consider whether an individual has difficulty standing, walking, kneeling, lifting, sitting, crouching, bending, stooping, balancing, and manipulating objects. Social Security will use the RFC assessment to determine what jobs an applicant can still do, if any. If there is some type of work an applicant can still perform, their claim will be denied, but if the symptoms of obesity are so limiting that there is no job they can do, the applicant may be awarded benefits under a “medical-vocational allowance.”

“Once Social Security determines the limitations caused by your condition, they will employ a vocational expert to assess whether a person with these limitations is employable. Most vocational experts will find a person to be unemployable if their condition or the treatment rendered for the condition causes the person to regularly be absent two or more days a month or be “off-task” 15% or more of the workday.”

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Whether you qualify for SSDI under an impairment listing or go through an RFC assessment, it’s absolutely essential to provide complete records documenting all your medical conditions.

Social Security will want to see:

  •   Physical exam notes
  •   Body Mass Index (BMI) reports
  •    Physical exam notes from your doctor
  •   Lab work showing diabetes, kidney and liver values and cholesterol levels
  •   Heart function and stress test results
  •   Hospitalization reports
  •   Imaging reports such as x-rays or MRIs to musculoskeletal problems
  •   Sleep study reports and records of breathing complications
  •   Psychological evaluation reports

If you are unable to work because of obesity, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

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Disability Benefits FAQs

Social Security has some basic financial requirements.

Before you are eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you must satisfy some basic financial requirements. You must: 1) have a disability that has lasted or is expected to last 12 months; and 2) you must have worked in a job where you paid Social Security taxes long enough and recently enough; and 3) you must not earn more than Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), which is $1,550 per month in 2024 for nonblind applicants and $2,590 per month for blind applicants.
Basic SSDI Requirements –>

You may also be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if you have another medical condition.

One disorder alone may not meet the criteria of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book, but if you have more than one medical condition, Social Security must consider how those health issues combined limit your ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks.
Disability for Multiple Impairments –>

If you are 55 or older or have another medical condition you may get approval.

Applicants who are 55 or older often fall under a grid rule, which means they are not expected to learn a new job.
Disability for those over 55 –>

You may also be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if you have another medical condition.

One disorder alone may not meet the criteria of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book, but if you have more than one medical condition, Social Security must consider how those health issues combined limit your ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks.
Disability for Multiple Impairments –>

Should you file a claim?

If you believe that you meet Social Security’s medical and financial requirements, you should apply for benefits. If you are still unsure or would like to talk to someone, please contact us at 512-454-4000. We are always ready to take your call and discuss your options with you free of charge. We are happy to help folks just like you find the best solution for their personal situation.

How do I file for Social Security Disability benefits?

Once you have decided to file a claim, you can take the first step and apply for Social Security Disability benefits in person at your local Social Security Administration office, online, or over the phone.
How to Apply for SSDI –>

Appealing denied benefits

Most who file are denied initially. That doesn’t mean you won’t qualify; you just need to file an appeal.
There are four steps to the Social Security appeal process.
SSDI Appeals Process –>

Do I need a disability attorney for SSDI?

You may certainly file a claim on your own, but evidence shows that your chances for approval are increased significantly if you have legal representation.
Do I need an SSDI attorney–>

What if I don’t qualify for SSDI?

If you haven’t worked long enough to earn enough work credits, or if you earn too much income, you may be eligible for disability benefits through another Social Security program, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or from a long-term disability insurance plan through your employer or a privately purchased policy.
What is Supplemental Security Income or SSI?–>

I have long-term disability insurance – should I file a claim?

Absolutely – you should file a claim as soon as you become disabled.
LTD Disability Appeals Process–>

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Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.

Attorney Lonnie RoachAuthor: Attorney Lonnie Roach has been practicing law for over 29 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Roach obtained board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lonnie is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Highly experienced in Long Term Disability denials and appeals governed by the “ERISA” Mr. Roach is a member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Austin Bar Association, and is a past the director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association (Director 1999-2005) Mr. Roach and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.

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