Is Obesity a Disability?

Posted on Jul 25, 2013

A person is considered obese if he or she has a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. By this definition, more than one-third of American adults are considered obese and four percent are morbidly obese (BMI of 40 or higher). Those who are obese are often subject to employment discrimination and social biases. In June 2013, the American Medical Association (AMA) elevated obesity from a condition to a disease. While the AMA does not have legislative powers, a declaration the nation’s largest professional organization of healthcare providers may be enough to convince the ADA to extend legal protection to obese adults.

Social Secuirity abolished the obesity listing in 1999. While there is no longer a listing for obesity, SSA is required to take obesity into consideration under certain circumstances.Obesity is a medically determinable impairment. Social Security adjudicators must take weight into consideration in musculoskeltal disorders, respiratory and cardiovascular disorders.

 Obese employees may be protected from losing their job based on weight and may also be able to request any reasonable accommodation necessary to safely do their jobs. Examples might include a larger chair or regular rest periods. Social Security is not required to take into consideration that employers are required to provide accomodations  in determining whether there are jobs available for an obese individual.

While the AMA ‘s decision may increase protection for employees under the ADA, it will not change  Nebraska applications for SSI and SSDI. To qualify for Social Security disability benefits an applicant must have a serious disability that limits his or her ability to hold a job and is expected to last for a year or longer. A person can apply for disability based on a medical condition worsened by obesity, but cannot apply simply on the grounds of being obese.

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