In certain situations, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) policies allow adjudicators to use a claimant’s body mass index (BMI) to determine disability. BMI is determined based on an individual’s height and weight. A claimant whose BMI is 17.5 or lower may meet a Listing. If their BMI is 30 or over, it is considered obese; some Listings and Social Security Ruling (SSR) 02-1p require the adjudicator to consider obesity in conjunction with impairments.
Where to Find a Client’s BMI in the File
The claimant’s BMI can be found in three different Sections. Personally, when I'm writing a brief or outlining a medical summary, the first place I look for the BMI is in Section A of the Social Security’s electronic file. The BMI is on the first page in the Disability Determination Explanation (DDE). It can also be found in Section F, which is where the evidence from medical professionals resides. The Social Security’s consultative examiner typically includes the claimant’s BMI in the consultative examination. Finally, the BMI is occasionally noted in the Disability Report in Section E.
How to Use a Client’s BMI to Win Social Security Disability (SSD)
Whether your client is underweight or overweight, it is possible to win cases using their BMI. Let's examine how to use a client's BMI to determine the outcome of a case.
Client with Low BMI (18.5 or less)
As a brief writer, I look for possible Listings at Step 3 that will be helpful in winning the case:
Listing 5.08 indicates that a person is disabled when their BMI is lower than 17.5 due to weight loss caused by any digestive disorder, such as IBS and liver disease
Under Section 9.00, a client may meet a listing if he or she has a BMI lower than 17.5 combined with an endocrine disorder, such as diabetes mellitus, and/or chronic kidney disease with unintentional weight loss
Listing 14.11 allows claimants with HIV and a BMI lower than 18.5 to be found disabled
Client with High BMI (30 or more)
Section 1.00 includes obesity as a consideration on the effects of musculoskeletal impairments, such as back degenerative disc disease or knee osteoarthritis
Section 3.00 includes obesity as a consideration when evaluating respiratory impairments, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. ALJs can find that obesity worsens asthma and therefore find the claimant disabled
SSR 02-1p states that the combined effects of obesity with other impairments can be greater than the effects of each of the impairments considered separately. The ruling indicates that obesity “commonly leads to, and often complicates, chronic diseases of the cardiovascular, respiratory, and musculoskeletal body systems”