A commonly asked question is whether or not you can get disability benefits for morbid obesity. After all, morbid obesity is a condition that can severely limit bodily functioning as well as mobility.
But you can’t obtain disability benefits based on obesity alone — even morbid obesity. The Social Security Administration views it as, “a risk factor that increases an individual’s chances of developing impairments in most body systems.” Which means morbid obesity often accompanies other conditions and symptoms that count as disabilities. This means you may qualify for disability benefits due to obesity-related conditions.
Conditions Related to Morbid Obesity That Often Qualify for SSD Benefits
Morbid obesity is defined at a BMI of 40 or above. (Though this chart may provide a more accurate picture of how doctors define “morbidly obese.”) While obesity alone isn’t a disability, many seriously overweight people have related medical conditions that limit their ability to work.
If you have two or more of these conditions and morbid obesity, then you may qualify for Social Security disability:
- Sleep apnea
- Type 2 diabetes
- Mobility or chronic pain issues related directly to your weight
- Heart disease, coronary artery disease or other heart conditions
The Social Security Administration recognizes that severe obesity isn’t technically a “disability.” But they do recognize obesity’s a serious risk factor for additional disabling conditions, like osteoarthritis and heart disease. Those with severe obesity are more likely develop other impairments that do qualify for SSD, including the ones listed above.
How Many Americans With Morbid Obesity Get Disability Benefits?
Nearly half the current SSDI and SSI beneficiaries fit into one of the following weight categories:
- 30-34.9 BMI: Class 1 obesity
- 35-39.9 BMI: Class 2 obesity
- BMI over 40: Class 3 obesity, also known as morbid obesity
As well all know, BMI doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to people’s weight and their health. But morbid obesity also includes anyone over age 35 with weight-related health problems (like acid reflux, high blood pressure or diabetes). And according to recent SSA data, disability applicants are frequently obese. A 2013 study showed that 40.2% of Social Security disability applicants were obese. Compare that to 28.8% of the U.S. working-age population that’s obese.
What If I’m Morbidly Obese, But Don’t Have Two or More Disabling Medical Conditions?
If you are very obese but have no other disabling impairments, you may still qualify for SSD benefits. However, we strongly recommend consulting a lawyer before you do anything else. Nobody on the internet can give you specific advice that applies to your unique situation. Talking to an expert in person will give you the best chance for approval when you apply.
Your best chance for approval means getting your doctor to fill out “functional reports” that track your limitations. You, your doctor (and sometimes caregivers), family members or friends can also complete and submit reports.
If you don’t understand these reports, learn how “residual functional capacity” (RFC) can prove you’re too disabled to work. Claim examiners use this form to evaluate people whose conditions aren’t listed in the SSA Blue Book. The RFC form details how your physical, mental and emotional health limits your ability to work. This form can help you prove your morbid obesity limits your ability to complete everyday tasks without help. This includes your ability to work full-time and support yourself through “substantial gainful activity.”
The RFC asks questions about how well you’re able to do the following tasks:
- Shop for and prepare food
- Get dressed, brush your teeth, bathe, etc.
- Take care of yourself every day
- How you handle mobility and transportation issues
The SSA mostly asks about how well you can personally function on a daily basis. But if you cannot easily sit or stand, the SSA will understand that you cannot work in physically active jobs. However, the SSA must determine that you’re unable to work at all. This includes sedentary jobs as well as those that require physical labor.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Without an obvious impairment the SSA normally approves, it’s harder to get SSD benefits. But if you can prove your morbid obesity symptoms prevent you from working, then the SSA may approve you.
If you’re still not sure how to prove you cannot work, talk to a lawyer. An attorney nearly triples your chances of benefit approval. Plus, a lawyer can help you avoid making common Social Security disability application mistakes that get 2 in every 5 claims denied. Best of all, a lawyer cannot charge you anything unless you win benefits! If the SSA doesn’t approve your claim, you’ll pay nothing for professional claim help… ever. But if a lawyer does help you win benefits, the law says you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
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Mandy Voisin is a freelance writer, blogger, and author of Girls of the Ocean and Star of Deliverance. As an accomplished content marketing consultant, mom of four and doctor's wife, Mandy has written hundreds of articles about dangerous drugs and medical devices, medical issues that impact disabled Americans, veterans' healthcare and workers' compensation issues since 2016.