Social Security Disability and Obesity

By Disability Group

The Obesity Listing

In 1999, the Social Security Administration (SSA) deleted the listing for Obesity.  Listing 9.09 required that a claimant filing a Social Security disability claim exceed a certain weight based on his or her height.  Once this requirement was met, the claimant only had to exhibit one of the five following impairments to meet the listing and qualify for social security disability benefits.

1.)    History of pain and limitation of motion in any weight-bearing joint or spine,

2.)    Hypertension with diastolic blood pressure persistently in excess of 100 mm,

3.)    History of congestive heart failure manifested by past evidence of vascular congestion,

4.)    Chronic venous insufficiency with superficial varicosities in a lower extremity with pain on weight-bearing and persistent edema, or

5.)    Respiratory disease with total forced vital capacity equal to or less than the value specified.

SSA Ruling 02-1p

As of October 25, 1999 when the deletion became effective, a person filing for disability benefits could no longer claim obesity as stated above.  In 2002, SSA issued ruling 02-1p, which states that obesity must still be considered in the evaluation process.  Listing 9.09 was deleted because Social Security felt the listing’s criteria “were not appropriate indicators of listing-level severity.”  In other words, the criteria set forth in listing 9.09 did not represent a severity of impairment that would prevent a person from working.

Evaluating Obesity in a Social Security Disability Claim

As obesity is still a severe impairment, it must be taken into account in conjunction with other severe impairments.  Changes to the wording of the musculoskeletal, respiratory, and cardiovascular body system listings now provide guidance about the potential effects obesity has in contributing to the severity of those impairments.  When considered together, the effects of an impairment coupled with obesity can be greater than if the impairment were considered on its own. 

Further, obesity must be considered when determining an individual’s Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).  RFC is the amount of exertion a person is still able to do, despite their impairments.