Obesity and disability

Obesity is a problem in this country-and a problem growing more serious. According to the results of a recent study, 29 percent of adults were identified as obese and almost 4 percent were found to be extremely obese. As a general rule, obesity has been defined as weighing more than 20 percent above the weight medical experts consider to be the ideal weight considering gender, age, and height.

The same recent study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, found another rather startling fact-obesity can be both a cause of a disability as well as a consequence. The research found that almost 42 percent of American adults suffering a disability are obese and 9 percent are considered extremely obese, compared with the 29 percent and 4 percent in the population at large. Along with the higher obesity rates comes other chronic illnesses-like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Obesity is not only a problem in the United States, but it is a complex problem.

Obviously, the impact of obesity on any given person is variable; for some it only has a slight impact on their ability to perform the activities of daily living, but for others, the impact can be, well, disabling. Until 2000, the Social Security Administration did not consider anyone who was morbidly obese as being disabled, unless they also suffered from a condition that met the criteria contained in a list of impairments. Today, obesity alone can found to be disabling without linking it to another listed impairment. While the SSA will award disability benefits for obesity, as with any other medical condition, it still must meet the test of a "severe impairment" -that is, when the obesity, either alone or in combination with another medically determinable mental or physical impairment, significantly limits a person's ability to perform basic work activities. If it has only a minimal effect on a person's ability to perform basic work functions, the SSA will find an individual to be not disabled and ineligible for Social Security disability benefits.

It is no secret that upwards of two-thirds of all SSA applicants claiming a disability based on obesity without an impairment listed in the SSA guidelines will have their initial claim denied. An appeal in these cases is necessary and statics show that applicants without legal representation are more likely to be unsuccessful. Representation by an experienced New Jersey Social Security attorney who is familiar with the process and the nuances of the regulations is important in advancing any SSA disability claim.