Social Security Disability and Obesity
Obesity is no longer a listed impairment but it is still important in your Social Security Disability claim. This means
you will not find a listing for obesity in any of the categories of the SSA medical listings. However, Social Security is
still required to consider the impact of obesity on one's disabilities. Many of the listings actually have paragraphs that
explain how obesity may affect the evaluation of certain other listings. Obesity is still a medically determinable impairment
and its effects must be evaluated when determining disability in SSD and SSI claims. So adjudicators are required consider
the effects of obesity has not only on certain listed impairments but also when assessing the claim at the other steps of
the sequential evaluation process which includes its effect on the individuals residual functional capacity. Social
Security Ruling 02-01p makes clear that obesity can be a severe impairment and therefore a disability even if it is the only
impairment. Obesity is to be considered a severe impairment if it significantly limits an individual’s physical
or mental ability to do basic work activities. Obesity will be found “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. SSR 02-01p states “individuals with obesity may have problems with the ability to
sustain a function over time” further “[i]n cases involving obesity, fatigue may affect the individual’s
physical and mental ability to sustain work activity.”
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Obesity can increase an individual's chances of developing many medical conditions throughout the body and can also complicate
existing medical conditions. Obesity can even cause or make worse psychiatric conditions such as depression. It is also well
documented that obesity has a negative effect on heart conditions, diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis and sleep apnea.
SSR 02-01p explains “The combined effects of obesity with other impairments may be greater than might be expected without
obesity. For example, someone with obesity and arthritis affecting a weight-bearing joint may have more pain and limitation
than might be expected from the arthritis alone.” SSR 02-01p also specifically addresses those who also have sleep apnea. “some
people with obesity also have sleep apnea” this “can lead to drowsiness and lack of mental clarity during
the day.” The rule also states “in cases involving obesity, fatigue may affect the individual’s
physical and mental ability to sustain work activity,” making it clear, “this may be particularly true
in cases involving sleep apnea.” These are just some of the medical conditions which obesity can either cause
or make worse. The next few sections will address how SSA is required to evaluate your claim when obesity is involved
but it would be a good idea to understand how Social Security determines if you are disabled
in general before reading these sections. If you are starting your research on Social Security Disability benefits
a good place to start is my home page on the Ultimate Disability Guide.
Obesity and The Medical Listing of Impairments
I have stated earlier, that obesity is no longer listed impairment. However, if an individual suffers
from a condition that is a listed impairment and the effects of individual's obesity increase the severity of the other medical
condition that an individual can be found to meet or equal a listed impairment due in part to the obesity. In other words,
if a claimant has a medical condition on the listings of impairments that by itself does not meet or equal a listing, the
fact that the individual is obese may complicate that medical conditions further to where it does meet the listing and therefore
the individual can be found disabled at this step of their SSDI claim. Some examples where this can occur are in the musculoskeletal,
cardiovascular, respiratory, and even mental disorder listings. For example, Social Security Ruling 02- 01p states “when evaluating impairments under mental disorder listings 12.05C, 112.05D and 112.05F, obesity that is ‘severe’
. . . satisfies the criteria in listing 12.05C for a physical impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related
limitation of function.” It continues “We will find the requirements of those listings are met if an individual
meets all the other requirements of the listings, including the capsule definition of mental retardation contained in the
listings.” You can find more examples of the effects of obesity on other medical conditions at the SSA website.
Some examples are obesity and cardiovascular, and obesity and musculoskeletal.
Limitations from Obesity in SSD or SSI Claim
As also stated earlier, obesity can cause limitations and one's ability to work on its own and in combination with other
medical conditions at steps four and five in the process when an individual's residual functional capacity is evaluated for
determining disability. Individuals would obesity often have exertional limitations which may include lifting, standing, walking,
sitting, pushing, and pulling. It may also affect postural limitations such as balance, stooping, crouching and climbing.
Even one's ability to use their hands may be affected by the presence of fatty tissue in the hands. It can also cause
sleep apnea which can affect one's ability to concentrate and focus during the day due to drowsiness. SSR 02-01p explains
“individuals with obesity may have problems with the ability to sustain a function over time.” This rule
also addresses the possible affect of fatigue on an individual suffering from obesity it states: “in cases involving
obesity, fatigue may affect the individual’s physical and mental ability to sustain work activity.”
If an ALJ in a hearing decision does not evaluate the effects of obesity in a Social Security disability
claim this is grounds for an appeal to the appeals Council which is often an effective argument to get a remand for a new
hearing. Even if the ALJ considers the obesity to not be a severe impairment the limitations it causes directly, or
indirectly by making another condition worse, must still be considered when the ALJ makes a decision.
Many of you might have heard that obesity is not a listed impairment before reading this page and many have made the assumption
that therefore Social Security will not consider its effect any Social Security disability case. However, as shown above if
you suffer from obesity you should listed as one of your impairments as they can have a significant impact on your claim for
Social Security disability benefits.
Lawyers and Social Security Disability for Obesity
If you are applying for Social Security disability benefits for obesity and other medical conditions you may want to
consider hiring a lawyer to help you win your claim. It is very common for Social Security to overlook the effects of obesity
on your claim for disability. An attorney can make sure the fact that you are significantly overweight will be considered
by the decision makers at the Social Security Administration. This can be particularly important at the hearing level for
a couple of reasons. One reason is that administrative law judges or ALJs often do not take into account a claimants weight
when evaluating whether they are disabled. As I stated earlier, this can be grounds for a remand if the ALJ does not
address obesity in his decision. Another reason it is important to have a lawyer at the hearing is many of these hearings
have medical experts. An attorney can make sure the medical expert takes into consideration your obesity when determining
if you meet or equal a listed impairment and what you're functional limitations are from your medical conditions. If you decide
you want a lawyer for your Social Security disability claim for obesity you can click on the link at the top of this page.
If you would like to speak to a Social Security Disability lawyer about your obesity claim you can call me at 1-877-527-5529.