Plainly speaking: Being obese can be disabling

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Americans are gaining. The New Yorker Magazine reports that American men are now on average 17 pounds heavier than they were in the late seventies, and women are even heavier at 19 pounds. As the average person became heavier, the very heavy became heavier still; more than 12 million Americans now have a body-mass index greater than 4, which, for someone who is five feet nine, entails weighing more than 270 pounds. Hospitals have had to buy special wheelchairs and operating tables to accommodate the obese. An Indiana company has begun offering triple-wide coffins with reinforced hinges that can hold up to 1100 pounds. It has been estimated that Americans’ extra bulk costs the airlines a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of jet fuel annually. Fatness is a risk factor for ischemic heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, cancer, respiratory disease, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, asthma, sleep apnea, arthritis, degenerative joint disease, gastric reflux and depression.Obesity can be disabling The Social Security Administration defines “obesity” as a chronic and complex disease that is characterized by excessive accumulation of body fat. Obese adults are those with a BMI of 30 and over. Morbidly obese adults have a BMI of 40 or more. (Overweight adults have a BMI of 25-29.9.)

The Social Security Administration publishes a book that contains a list of impairments, and if you meet the criteria for one of the listed impairments, you are automatically approved for disability benefits. Prior to 2000, people who were morbidly obese could be considered disabled under Social Security just because they were morbidly obese. However, many obese individuals are able to lead productive lives and hold gainful employment. Being obese does not necessarily mean a person is unable to work or that a person is disabled.

Today, you can still be awarded disability benefits for obesity, but the SSA, as with any other medical condition, will find that obesity is a “severe” impairment when, alone or in combination with another medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s), it significantly limits an individual’s physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. (For children applying for disability, the SSA will find that obesity is a “severe” impairment when it causes more than minimal functional limitations.) The SSA will also consider the effects of any symptoms (such as pain or fatigue) that could limit functioning. The SSA will find that an impairment(s) is “not severe” only if it is a slight abnormality (or a combination of slight abnormalities) that has no more than a minimal effect on the individual’s ability to do basic work activities (or, for a child, if it causes no more than minimal functional limitations).

If you are having trouble working due to your weight, you need to talk to your doctor. In order to apply for Social Security disability, your doctor needs to state in writing that you are unable to work and explain why. If you are considering applying for disability, you should also seek the advice of an experienced Social Security attorney to evaluate your case and assist you though the process.