Before we get into the real question is obesity a disability or not, we should first find a perfect definition for disability. Disability is defined as a certain kind of medical condition in which a person is unable to do certain activities and finds it difficult to interact with the rest of the world. Disability or impairment is mainly associated with the limitation and restrictions of a person in doing ordinary day-to-day activities.
On the other hand, when we talk of obesity, it’s all about excessive body fat that increases the risk of other health problems. It is mainly caused due to the intake of excess calories than disposed of by daily activities and exercises. But these two assertions cannot alone decide whether obesity is a disability or not unless we study its causes, underlying health conditions, and its impact on the life of a person from the physical and physiological perspectives.
1. Obesity: A Detailed Study
1.1. Some Statistics
Excessive fat accumulation- obesity is a raging issue in every part of the world. One out of every 3 men and 1 out of every 5 women is suffering from obesity because of their poor metabolism, excessive fat consumption, and lack of routine exercises.
According to WHO, a BMI of more than 25 is overweight and more than 30 is obese. About 39.68% of the American population which is around 70 million adults (35 million men and 35 million women) are obese.
1.2. Obesity in Women
Obesity is a disorder that is prevalent among all age groups and all genders. However it is important to note that older women (women of age 40-75) are at a higher risk of obesity), than men of the same age group. So the question that arises here is- ‘Is obesity a disability for women.’ It is seen that women in this age bracket, experience a sudden increase in their waist circumference and extra fat accumulation around other body parts.
The probable reason behind this is the biological cycle going on in women through these years, they go through menopause during these years, which comes along with immense hormonal and physiological alteration in a woman which may affect metabolism and eventually leads to excessive fat accumulation and obesity. On the other hand, men have a comparatively lower risk of obesity but it is seen that obesity is more fatal in men across the globe.
1.3. Obesity in Different Age Groups
Obesity is also prevalent in different age groups such as 40.2% in adults aged 20- 39 years which is about 45.6% in the age group of 40-59 years and 41.6% in the above 60 years age group. American adults between 40- and 59 years are mostly affected by obesity in the country. But nowadays there is a rise in a new phenomenon called teenage obesity which is rising due to higher consumption of junk food and negligible physical activity.
2. Factors Causing Obesity
Genes can stimulate obesity and weight gain. Genes are a major factor in the individual’s tendency to gain weight and this is known as Prader-Willi Syndrome.
2.2. Intake of High-Calorie Diet
Consumption of a diet that has a high-calorie content and not taking enough fruits, vegetables, and roughage can cause excessive weight gain and obesity( Diet tips for maintaining health as you age ). Eating more junk food items and in all not eating a balanced diet is one of the primary causes of obesity.
2.3. Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol consumption has been a major factor contributing to the growing rate of obesity in the United States. According to studies, alcohol consumption has caused an increase of 10% in obesity in America.
2.4. Lack of Physical Activity
People who exercise daily or do any sort of physical activity, that helps to burn the excessive fat and calories that they have consumed, have a lesser tendency to get obese.
2.5. Inappropriate Sleep Cycle
This is one of the inherent causes of obesity. People who tend to follow a fluctuating and imbalanced sleep cycle or do not get enough sleep are always at higher risk of obesity.
Mental tension due to excessive work pressure or any other kind of stress can also lead to overweight and obesity by affecting the metabolism of an individual.
Surrounding a person is one of the major factors contributing to the health aspects of an individual. Living in a regressive environment that lacks basic health amenities such as parks and gyms contributes to obesity. Lack of health awareness also increases the risk of obesity.
2.8. Diseases and Medication
Obesity can be caused by diseases such as Hypothyroidism, gushing syndrome, and Prader Willi Syndrome. Some disorders like arthritis that decrease muscular strength can also lead to obesity by obstructing an individual’s daily activities. Some medicines and diagnoses can also lead to weight gain as a side effect if are not compensated by appropriate diet or physical activity and these medicines consist of steroids, antidepressants, diabetes medicine, anti-seizure medicine, etc.
2.9. Physiological Causes
Obesity can sometimes be a result of underlying physiological disorders such as depression because it sometimes heavily impacts the eating habits of an individual.
3. How Obesity Adds to Other Health Conditions
Obesity might not be itself a very dangerous medical condition but comorbidities associated with obesity are severe enough. Obesity has a greater impact on the immunity of a body which determines the resistance of the body against the anti-body elements and also affects the self-correcting function of the body. An obese person is always at a higher risk of every kind of disease or dysfunction in the body than a person who is not obese and has normal weight.
Obesity not only affects your physical health but also affects your mental health which is of quite more serious concern. Whether we agree or not overweight does restrict our daily life and significantly limits us in our physical constraints.
3.1. Comorbidities Associated with Obesity
3.1.1. Type 2 Diabetes
Obesity increases the development of Insulin resistance elements such as NEFA, glycerol hormones, cytokines, proinflammatory substances, etc. Hence, it leads to the development of diabetes due to insulin resistance disabling beta cell function.
Obesity that comes along with excessive fat (visceral and retroperitoneal fat) accumulation around the kidneys causes compressing of kidneys, increases intrarenal pressures, impaired pressure natriuresis, and finally leads to hypertension.
3.2.3. Cardiovascular Issue
As obesity causes hypertension which is one of the major reasons for heart attack, it contributes to cardiovascular diseases. Excessive fat accumulation in your arteries leads to vessel blockage and causes cardiac arrest and heart attack.
More weight or overweight due to excessive fat accumulation- obesity, causes extra burden on knees and other joints. This leads to loss of friction between joints and soft tissue damage and finally results in Osteoarthritis. It makes the condition even worse when the individual already has the disease.
4. Obesity and Physiological Disorder
Obesity is something that not only affects your health but also affects your physical appearance. Though it is unethical to judge someone by his/her body appearance people with excessive body weight and obese people become the prey of unfair comments on their looks and weight. They also feel underconfident because they aren’t capable of doing ordinary physical activities that people with normal body mass index and weight do easily.
They are made to feel incompetent, underproductive, and ugly by society because they do not stand on the so-called beauty standards set by society. This leads them to many emotional and physiological disorders and then it results in depression and sometimes even suicide. These all conditions compel us to think- Is obesity a disability?
However, if possible people should try to maintain a healthy weight by having a proper diet and daily exercises not because they want them to be accepted by the world but because it’s for their benefit and well-being. However, people should also try to develop a feeling of body positivity not only for themselves but also for others and should stop judging an individual by his outer self but look into his/ her inner beauty and care about his/her psychological well-being.
5. What Is a Disability Under the ADA
According to the ADA, disability is rather a legal term than a medical term. ADA also provides a legal definition to the term “Person with Disability” which states a person who has a physical or mental disorder that substantially obstructs one or more than one daily life activity. It also consists of people who do not really have a disability but claim that they have one or have a history of any such disability.
ADA’s definition of disability is somewhat different from how it is described in other such laws. Any kind of discrimination is illegal on the grounds of his/her association with a person with a disability, but this does not confirm whether is obesity a disability or not.
6. Is Obesity a Disability Under the ADA
The ADA prohibits discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the grounds of an individual’s disability during the hiring, training, work, advancement, or discharging of a job. Disability under ADA stands for the impairment by birth, or after birth that restricts an individual from doing ordinary daily tasks, it also means that one with excessive obesity, with effects of extreme health conditions and physiological disorders, comes under ADA.
Some federal and state courts in New York City, Mississippi, and Louisiana have recognized obesity as a potential disability. In 1997 decision made in the federal court held that severe obesity could be a disability but the appeal was adjourned because she could not establish she was morbidly obese and her body weight restricted work and normal daily activities in any way.
Along with the disability benefits federal courts also guarantee individuals against any kind of derogatory remarks made or injustice based on one’s body weight.
The majority of courts still hold the opposite law and assert that obesity is not a disability under the ADA or any other judicial institution. They have held that obesity or overweight is not a disability unless it is caused by an underlying health condition such as diabetes which will finally determine whether is obesity a disability or not.
However, it is suggested to relook and revise the conventional policies in the profession where overweight holds the position of potential disability, and it should be reflected in their hiring, training, and work responsibilities and expectations.
7. Documentation You Need for Your Disability Application
An online application can be made by visiting the official website of SSA. You can also call the national toll-free service or the local social security office can also be visited, making an appointment in advance to save time.
7.1. Documents to Show
They may ask you to provide documents to show that you are eligible, such as:
- Birth certificate or other proof of birth;
- Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States;
- U.S. military discharge paper(s) if you had military service before 1968;
- W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year;
- An Adult Disability Report that collects more details about your illnesses, injuries or conditions, and your work history; https://www.ssa.gov/
- Medical evidence is already in your possession. This includes medical records, doctors’ reports, and recent test results; and
- Award letters, pay stubs, settlement agreements, or other proof of any temporary or permanent workers’ compensation-type benefits you received.
7.2. What They Will Ask You?
- Your name, gender, and Social Security number;
- Your name at birth (if different);
- Date of birth and place of birth (State or foreign country) for yours;
- Whether a public or religious record was made of your birth before age 5;
- Your citizenship status;
- If you or anyone else has ever filed for Social Security benefits, Medicare or Supplemental Security Income on your behalf (if so, we will also ask for information on whose Social Security record you applied);
- Whether you have used any other Social Security number;
- Whether you were ever in active military service before 1968 and, if so, the dates of service and whether you have ever been eligible to receive a monthly benefit from a military or Federal civilian agency;
- If you or your spouse have ever worked for the railroad industry;
- Whether you have earned Social Security credits under another country’s Social Security system;
- Whether you qualified for or expect to receive a pension or annuity based on your own employment with the Federal government of the United States or one of its States or local subdivisions;
- If you are currently married and, if so, your spouse’s name, date of birth (or age) and Social Security number (if known);
- Names, dates of birth (or age), and Social Security numbers (if known) of any former spouses;
- The dates and places of each of your marriages and, for marriages that have ended, how and when they ended;
- The names of any unmarried children under age 18, age 18-19 and in elementary or secondary school, or disabled before age 22;
- If you have or had a child under age 3 living with you during a calendar year when you had no earnings;
- Whether you have a parent who was dependent on you for 1/2 of his or her support at the time you became disabled;
- Whether you had earnings in all years since 1978;
- The name(s) of your employer(s) or information about your self-employment and the amount of your earnings for this year and last year;
- Whether you received or expect to receive any money from an employer since the date you became unable to work;
- Whether you have any unsatisfied felony or arrest warrants for escape from custody, flight to avoid prosecution or confinement, or flight escape;
- The date you became unable to work because of illnesses, injuries or conditions and if you are still unable to work; and
- Information about any workers’ compensation, black lung, and/or similar benefits you filed, or intend to file for. These benefits can:
- Be temporary or permanent in nature;
- Include annuities and lump sum payments that you received in the past; and
- Be paid by your employer or your employer’s insurance carrier, private agencies, or Federal, State or other government or public agencies.
7.3. Some Examples Include:
- Workers’ Compensation
- Black Lung Benefits
- Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation
- Civil Service Retirement
- Federal Employees’ Retirement
- Federal Employees’ Compensation
- State Disability Insurance benefits
- Military retirement pensions based on disability
Obesity is a disorder that is of growing concern in today’s world but is obesity a disability, it is not fixed. It is one of the major causes of various health conditions and has the potential the condition worse when it has to add to the problem in the already presence of diseases such as hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and physiological disorders. There are many reasons that contribute to making a person obese such as genes, diet, sleep cycle, alcohol consumption, etc.
Individuals from their side should always try to maintain a healthy weight by making small changes in their daily routine such as eating a balanced diet, daily exercise, maintaining an appropriate sleep cycle, and above all a little weight loss. Altogether we can say that we should try maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
However, it is hard to decide whether it is a disability in the absence of an underlying health condition or not. But as asserted by the majority of state and federal courts it is certainly an impairment in the presence of such underlying health conditions.
It needs no proof that it is a potential disability in many conditions. It should be reflected in the professional arena while hiring, training, work, advancement, and discharge, their job responsibilities and expectations should be discussed prior. People with disabilities who think that they fit the eligibility criteria for accessing disability benefits should exercise their rights by making an application to the SSA.