Disability Due to Obesity
Obese people often suffer a variety illnesses and conditions that
stem from obesity. Spinal damage and back pain may result from too
much weight. Feet and joints may also be harmed by too much weight.
Diabetes and cardiovascular disease can also occur. All of this is
particularly true for those who are morbidly obese. The issues of disability
may face some, who because of pain or health, can no longer work. This
section will offer information that will explore the scope of this
Are you Disabled?
People with obesity work in most occupations and businesses. Being overweight or obese may cause little or no inconvenience to a person’s career. Over time, however, a disability may occur from obesity.
When obesity becomes severe, it can inflict bodily pain and affect normal daily activities. A person with severe obesity may find their ability to perform their chosen occupation so compromised that they qualify for disability.
Disability programs assist individuals who cannot engage in their usual employment because of their health.
Social Security Disability
If you are obese, you may be entitled to disability payments from the Social Security Administration (SSA). According to the SSA, $77 million are paid monthly to approximately 137,000 persons who met obesity requirements for disability under criteria used prior to May 15, 2000, when a new policy was issued. Most of the people who qualified for benefits under the old policy claimed to have muscle or skeletal complications.
Changes in Social Security Benefits for Obesity
In 1998, after the SSA proposed changing the rules to qualify for disability income on the basis of obesity, the AOA organized a coalition of organizations and presented strong evidence that obesity is a disease. The coalition’s mission was to prevent the SSA from making it more difficult for persons with obesity to receive benefits.
- Read the SSA’s initial proposal, published in the Federal Register (63 Fed. Reg. 11854) on March 11, 1998.
The AOA-led coalition included: the American Dietetic Association, the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, the American Society for Bariatric Surgery, The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (NOSSCR), the Obesity Law and Advocacy Center and Shape Up America!
In the new policy, printed in the Federal Register (65 Fed.Reg. 31039), the SSA states that:
- the policy is binding on all components of the Social Security Administration
and are to be relied on as precedents in adjudicating cases.
- obesity "is a complex, chronic disease characterized by excessive
accumulation of body fat. Obesity is generally the result of a combination
of factors (e.g. genetic, environmental, and behavioral).
- the judgment of a physician who has examined the claimant is generally
relied on to establish obesity.
- obesity is determined over time (short term weight loss will not
- obesity is severe enough for disability when it significantly limits
an individual’s physical or mental abilities to do basic work activities,
or in the case of children, when it causes more than a minimal functional
- severity depends on an individualized assessment of an individual’s
- the new policy does not affect persons who already qualified under the old standard.
It remains to be seen whether the new policy may or may not be helpful to persons with severe obesity. The AOA will continue to monitor the policy change.
- Read more about Social Security benefits at the Social Security Administration website.
- Find an attorney who specializes in Social Security claims through
the National Organization of Social
Security Claimants' Representatives.
- Find legal advice on obesity and disability from the Obesity Law and Advocacy
- Read about civil rights of people with disabilities from the Disability
Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc.
- Get Social Security disability benefits law information and other resources from Severe.net.