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Is Morbid Obesity Considered A Disability?

Social Security used to have a specific medical listing that covered morbid obesity, however in recent years this listing has been dropped. Now morbid obesity has to be evaluated in conjunction with other impairments that may be exacerbated by obesity such as asthma, cardiovascular conditions, arthritis or by the increased functional limitations caused by an individualís obesity.

Initially, Social Security had a chart that addressed specific weights and heights that established morbid obesity; however since the demise of the medical listing it depends upon treating physicians or consultative physicians to establish the fact that an individual has morbid obesity.

Basically, Social Security considers morbid obesity to be a severe impairment, either alone or in conjunction with other medical problems that significantly limit an individual's ability to perform significant work activity or activities of daily living (i.e. personal grooming, walking, driving, etc.).

How obesity was previously evaluated

Since the rule change in October, 1999, Social Security has evaluated obesity under other listings. For example, if an individual has morbid obesity and arthritis, the individual will most likely be evaluated under the musculoskeletal listings. Likewise, if an individual has heart or breathing problems, obesity may be evaluated under a cardiovascular or asthma listing. However, if an individual does not meet any of these listings in the social security impairment listing manual, they may still be approved via a medical vocational allowance.

What is a medical vocational allowance? Medical vocational allowances are based upon an individualís age, educational background, past work, medical and/or mental conditions, and residual functional capacity (what an individual is able to do in spite of their medical and/or mental impairments).

So the simple answer to this question is, yes, morbid obesity is considered to be a disabling medical condition just like any other severe medical or mental condition. And just like other impairments, it is evaluated under the five step sequential Social Security disability evaluation process. Remember, first and foremost, eligibility for Social Security disability benefits depends upon functional ability rather than being diagnosed with a specific medical and/or mental condition.

As an examiner, I found that the obesity listing was frequently derided (I've blogged about this: never assume that the people working on your case are empathetic or completely impartial. The fact of the matter is that they are not. If they were entirely impartial, you would not see huge differences in outcomes between the various levels of the system and between various states in the country).

Was the decision to delete the obesity listing right or wrong? Personally, I think it was a mistake and here's why: when an individual's body weight reaches a certain threshold of obesity, impairments are typically bound to follow in the various body systems and, over time, become progressively worse (sometimes becoming life-threatening), whether those impairments are currently listing-level or not.

Also, consider this scenario: An individual is severely obese and has respiratory, musculoskeletal (typically, arthritic degeneration), and cardivascular deficits (such as congestive heart failure). Even if this individual's respiratory, joint, and heart problems are not listing level, in and of themselves (i.e., none of these individual conditions meet the disability approval criteria set forth in the impairment listing manual), they may still, in combination with the functional limiations that would normally be present in a severely obese individual, make it impossible for the individual to: A. perform the duties of their past work and B. performs the duties of any other suitable type of work, as determined by age, skills, and education.

  • What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

  • What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

  • Which conditions will social security recognize as a disability?

  • Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

  • SSDRC Homepage:

    Social Security Disability and SSI Resource Center

    The Most Basic questions about Getting Disability Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI and whether or not you can work

    Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

    Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    More Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    Common Questions about Social Security Disability and SSI

    Winning Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    The SSI Disability Benefits Program

    Social Security Disability SSI and Doctors - Yours and Theirs

    Social Security Disability and SSI Claim Reviews

    Social Security Disability SSI System and Benefits for Children

    Denials, Appeals, and Getting a Disability Lawyer or Representative

    What you should know about Social Security Disability and SSI Denials

    Questions about Disability Lawyers and Hiring a Disability Attorney

    Various Types of Benefits including SSI, Mental, and Child benefits

    Social Security and SSI based on Mental Disability

    Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits for Children

    Disability Benefits through Social Security

    Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI: Medical Evidence and Records

    Filing your claim for disability benefits

    Eligibility for receiving disability benefits

    Resources on this site

    Social Security Disability, SSI Terms and Definitions

    Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

    The SSDRC Disability Blog

    For Individuals living in North Carolina

    Disability in North Carolina

    North Carolina Disability Lawyer

    Getting disability in North Carolina

    Related pages:

    How Will Social Security Decide a Disability Case?
    Social Security Disability Approvals - Medical Conditions and Getting Approved
    How long does it take to be approved for SSI or Social Security disability?
    Medical vocational allowance for depression
    SSDI review
    SSDI non medical requirements
    Getting approved for disability based on being blind
    Anxiety about a Social Security Disability medical exam
    Can you get disability for OCD?
    Can you get disability for Chronic fatigue and Fibromyalgia?
    Is Chronic Fatigue considered a disability by Social Security?
    Is an FCE the same thing as the RFC evaluation done by Social Security Disability?
    How is memory loss considered by Social Security Disability?
    Is Morbid Obesity Considered A Disability?
    SSDI Request for Reconsideration
    Social Security Disability Back Payment Lump Sum
    Appealing a Social Security Disability Claim decision
    SSI Reconsideration vs SSDI Disability Reconsideration

    Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

    Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

    These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits

    How to file for disability, filing tips
    What to Prove to Qualify for Disability Benefits
    Applying for disability benefits, SSI and SSDI
    What Disabilities Qualify for SSI and Social Security Disability?
    Will you get disability back pay?
    Social Security Disability And SSI Qualifications
    Permanent Disability Qualifications for SSD and SSI
    Social Security Disability SSI status
    Disability lawyer representation, finding lawyers
    Who will qualify for disability and what qualifying is based on
    Qualifications for Disability Benefits
    Important points about filing for disability
    How long does it take to get disability after applying?
    Am I Eligible For Social Security Disability?
    Who is eligible for SSI disability?
    How to get disability in Florida