Social Security disability evaluation of cases involving obesity

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has issued a new ruling about evaluating disability cases involving obesity.  This ruling rescinds and replaces Social Security Ruling 02-01p.

Obesity can be a medically determinable impairment when established by objective medical evidence from an acceptable medical source.  Social Security will not use a diagnosis or a statement of symptoms to establish a medically determinable impairment.  Signs and laboratory findings that may establish obesity as a medically determinable impairment include measured height and weight, measured waist size and body mass index, each measured over time.

Obesity is defined as a body mass index of 30.0 or higher.  No specific weight or body mass index establishes obesity as a medically determinable impairment or a severe impairment for purposes of the Social Security disability program.  If a person’s body mass index is within the normal range, they may still have obesity if their waist measurement is high.

In determining whether obesity is a severe impairment, Social Security considers all symptoms such as fatigue or pain that could limit functioning.  Social Secuity also considers functional limitations from obesity and any other physical or mental impairment.  If a person’s obesity, alone or in combination with other impairments, significantly limit physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, the impairment is severe.

Although obesity is not a listed impairment, the functional limitations caused by medically determinable impairment of obesity, alone or in combination with another impairment, may medically equal a listing.

Social Security must consider the limiting effects of obesity when assessing a person’s residual functional capacity.  Social Secuity assesses residual functional capacity to show the effect of obesity upon the person’s ability to perform routine movement and necessary physical activity within the work environment.  The combined effects of obesity with another impairment may be greater than the effects of each impairment considered separately.  (SSR 19-02p, May 20, 2019.)

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