3.6 Impact of Obesity

Social Security Disability Cases or SSI Cases


The National Institute of Health classifies a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI) by considering the ratio of a person’s weight and height to provide their BMI. Persons with a BMI of 30.0 or above are defined as obese.

The greater a persons BMI, the more impact obesity typically has on a person. Obesity often leads to, further complicates, or significantly increases the risk of developing some impairments. Such impairments may include cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems, sleep apnea, depression, and movement difficulty or musculoskeletal problems which are the most common difficulties affecting obese adults.

Social Security Administration (SSA) considers obesity as a medically determinable impairment and will find that obesity is a “severe impairment” when it significantly limits your ability to do basic work activities, as well as your activities of daily living. Because obesity is often one ailment in conjunction with other impairments, SSA must consider the effects of obesity on you individually. When combined with other impairments, the impact on you can be much greater than the effects of the different impairments considered separately.

The burden is on you, or on each applicant, to prove his or her own disability case. Obesity can be documented by either your treating doctor as an actual diagnosis, by consistently high BMIs noted within the medical records, or by a calculation provided at the consultitative examination. Often it is the symptoms related to obesity that are underreported to a patient’s doctor primarily because of the stigma attached to weight related problems. In these cases, the medical records are often underdeveloped. One of the most important actions you, as an applicant, can do to help strengthen your disability claim, is to ensure you are actually telling your treating medical providers about your specific symptoms. Whether it be problems walking, breathing, sleeping, or even driving or bathing, these difficulties should always be reported to your treating doctor.

In the SSA evaluation process, your ability to perform basic work related functions is evaluated despite any of the limitations caused by obesity. The impact of obesity on your abilty to do any of the following is considered: sit, stand, walk, lift, handle, crouch, bend. For example, if back problems are worse as a result of your weight, then this likely affects your ability to sit for extended periods. Obesity can also impact your ability to sustain a function over time due to fatigue, for example. In these instances, you may have difficulty maintaining full-time employment if basic daily activities such as walking or bathing are signficantly limited. But for a majority of cases, it usually comes down to whether or not you can even work a job that involves only sitting at a desk for a majority of the day.

Obesity can have a significant impact on your disability claim in a variety of ways just as it significantly impacts your daily life in a variety of ways.

Farrah C. Grey is an attorney licensed in the state of Texas and has exclusively handled disability cases at the heairng level since 2009. Farrah is a member of the Dallas Association of Social Security Claimant’s Advocates (DAASCA) as well as the National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives (NOSSCR).


Farrah Grey