Is Obesity a Disability?


Living with obesity can be difficult, and extra weight can lead to major health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 72 million adults in the U.S. are obese. Obesity is a complex health issue that’s caused by many factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices, and other health issues. 

But is obesity a disability? The answer to this question is complex. A medical condition must meet specific standards to qualify as a disability under the Social Security Disability guidelines. Not everyone who meets the medical standard for obesity meets the standards for a disability. 

Defining Obesity

The Centers for Disease Control uses body mass index (BMI) as a screening tool to measure obesity. BMI is a person’s weight divided by the square of their height. A BMI that equals 25 to 30 is considered to be within the healthy weight range. A BMI over 30 is classified as obese. 

Body mass index is only a screening tool. It does not diagnose a person’s health or body fat. To better understand your health and how it is being affected by your weight, see a qualified healthcare provider for a complete evaluation. 

Is Obesity a Disability According to the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees and job applicants from discrimination based on disability. It is a legal organization, not a medical one.

The ADA considers a person qualified to claim disability status if they have a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits their ability to participate in major life activities. If an individual meets the conditions of disability according to the ADA, they are legally protected from harassment or discrimination based on that disability. 

With rare exceptions, state and federal courts do not consider obesity a disability under the ADA guidelines unless it is caused by a separate underlying health condition. For example, if a person experiences weight gain as a symptom of Cushing syndrome, their obesity may be classified as a disability. However, in this case, health experts would need to discern if it was obesity or Cushing syndrome that was causing the disability. 

Can You Qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance Because of Obesity?

Not every person with a high BMI faces hardships because of their weight. That is why BMI is not considered an indicator of health. Many people — possibly the majority of people — who are overweight will eventually begin to suffer the consequences of excess weight. These consequences may lead to disability, but obesity alone is not considered to be a disability by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The SSA views obesity as a risk factor that may lead to other symptoms and conditions that could lead to disabilities. An individual would qualify to receive disability benefits because of obesity-related conditions. 

For example, if you have two or more of the conditions most often related to obesity, such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits. 

The Social Security Administration recognizes that obesity alone is not technically disabling but that some of the conditions caused by carrying excess weight can be. 

Is obesity a disability? There are many factors to consider when answering this question. If you wish to apply for disability benefits, make an appointment with your physician for a full health evaluation. 

If you believe you are disabled because of your health conditions or that you’ve been discriminated against because of your weight, the best course of action is to speak with an attorney who is experienced with these matters. 

Obesity and Your Health

Given all the genetic, social, and cultural factors that contribute to obesity in the U.S., maintaining a healthy weight is not easy. The amount of work it takes to lose a large amount of weight may feel overwhelming. However, even a small loss can significantly improve your health. Losing only 5-10% of your total body weight can improve your health on many levels. 

If you’re struggling with extra weight for any reason, consult with your physician. Weight management is a medical issue, not an indicator of your personal worth.