We recently had a case involving a young claimant who was five feet six inches tall and weighed over 350 pounds. She had a BMI over 50. In addition, she had been diagnosed with scoliosis (a sideways curvature of the spine associated with pain but not neurological impairment),lumbar spondylosis (stiffening or fixation of the vertebrae) and hypo joint mobility. She had a high school diploma but no work experience. She took daily pain medication but still woke up several times per night due to the pain. This caused her to be groggy and not mentally focused during the day.
One of the issues in the claim involved what effect her obesity was having on her underlying orthopaedic conditions. In order to properly present her claim we had to research to what extent obesity is considered by the Social Security Administration. According to the Social Security Administration, obesity is a complex, chronic disease characterized by excessive accumulation of body fat caused by a combination of factors i.e. genetic, environmental and behavioral. Obesity is a risk factor that increases an individual’s chances of developing impairments in most body systems.
The National Institutes of Health established medical criteria for the diagnosis of obesity. These guidelines classify overweight and obesity in adults according to Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is the ratio of an individual’s weight in kilograms to the square of his or heightin meters. For adults, both men and women, the guidelines describe a BMI of 25-29.9 as overweight and a BMI of 30.0 or above as obesity. The guidelines further recognize three levels of obesity. Level I includes BMIs of 30.0 – 34.9. Level II includes BMIs of 35.0 – 39.9. Level III, termed extreme obesity includes BMIs greater than 40.
Prior to October 25, 1999, there was an actual SSA listing for obesity (9.09). The listing was deleted because the Social Security Administration believed that the criteria in the listing were not appropriate indicators of listing-level severity in that they did not represent a degree of functional limitation that would prevent an individual from engaging in any gainful activity.
Although the listing was deleted, the Social Security Administration still recognizes obesity as a medically determinable impairment. On September 12, 2002 they issued a Policy Interpretation Ruling (SSR 02-1p) regarding the evaluation of obesity.
In the ruling SSA reminds adjucators that “obesity is a medically determinable impairment and that adjucators should consider its effects when evaluating disability”. The ruling also reminds adjudicators that the combined effectss of obesity with other impairments can be greater than the effects of each of the impairments considered separately. They also instructed adjudicators to consider the effects of obesity when assessing an individual’s residual functional capacity.
The ruling provides that the Social Security Administration will find that “obesity is a severe impairment when, alone or in combination with another medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s), it significantly limits an individual’s physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” They will also consider the effects of any symptoms (i.e. pain or fatigue)that could limit functioning.
In our case we believe that we were able to show that the claimant’s obesity combined with her underlying orthopaedic conditions significantly limited her physical and mental ability to do basic work activities.
The San Diego Social Security Disability Attorneys with the San Diego Disability Law Group will help you present the strongest claim possible for Social Security Disability based on obesity and other limiting conditions.
If you or a friend or family member has a Social Security Disability claim or question, contact the Social Security Disability Attorneys at the San Diego Disability Law Group for a free consultation at 619-338-900.