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June 20, 2023

Does Class III Obesity Qualify as a Disability? 

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As societies confront the complexities of obesity, questions about the classification of obesity as a disability have come to the forefront. Disability, traditionally understood as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has served as a framework for ensuring equal rights and protection for individuals facing significant obstacles. However, the application of this framework to obesity is subject to contrasting perspectives.

Advocates for recognizing obesity as a disability argue that the condition can have severe and pervasive impacts on individuals’ lives, comparable to other recognized disabilities. They assert that individuals with obesity face discrimination, prejudice, and limited opportunities in various domains, including employment, education, and public accommodations.

As the lines between health, disability, and societal obligations continue to blur, grappling with the question of whether obesity qualifies as a disability is crucial for shaping inclusive policies, promoting empathy, and fostering supportive environments for individuals living with obesity. Only through thoughtful examination and open dialogue can we navigate the path toward a more equitable and compassionate future for all.

FAQs About Class III Obesity

What is the definition of Class III Obesity?

“A serious health condition that results from an abnormally high body mass that is diagnosed by having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40 kg/m², a BMI of greater than 35 kg/m² with at least one serious Obesity-related condition, or being more than 100 pounds over ideal body weight (IBW).”

Because medical providers and their patients understand the word “morbid” differently (medical providers do not find their patients ghoulish), the preferred term is no longer “Morbid Obesity” but is either “Class III Obesity” or “Severe Obesity.” This allows medical providers to communicate that this excess weight is a serious health problem without sounding judgmental. This evolving language in the treatment of obesity is important in dispelling the stigma surrounding obesity.

What are the Different Levels of Obesity?

The diseases of being Overweight and Obesity are classified into increasing BMI levels that typically have increasingly higher levels of health consequences. The following are levels of Obesity based on BMI:

  • Overweight: BMI 25.0-29.9 kg/m²
  • Class I Obesity: BMI 30.0-34.9 kg/m²
  • Class II Obesity: BMI 35.0-39.9 kg/m²
  • Class III Obesity: BMI ≥ 40.0 kg/m²*

Using the BMI or Body Mass Index, while simple to calculate, is problematic as it doesn’t assess for Obesity because BMI cannot tell if a person’s weight is due to muscle or excess fat. A very lean person with a lot of muscle may be labeled as having Class III Obesity.

Why Do the Definition and Degree of Obesity Matter?

Making a specific diagnosis allows medical providers to prioritize their patients’ health risk levels. The higher the level of excess weight, the higher the risk of severe health problems, disability, and early death for that patient. It also helps identify eligibility for treatment options such as weight loss surgery, program participation, or medications. The list of potential weight-related health problems for Overweight and Obesity is long, especially for Class III Obesity. We have discovered that numerous health conditions are caused by or associated with excess weight. Reducing body weight and maintaining that loss can help to improve or reverse many of these problems.

What are the Health Risks for Class III Obesity?

Problems with Obesity come from the strain of carrying excess weight, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, sleep apnea, shortness of breath, nerve pain, arthritis, back pain, heartburn, leg swelling, varicose veins, and physical disability. Other problems result from disturbances in metabolic function from having dysfunctional fat cells, such as Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, Fatty liver disease, dementia, Increased risk of several cancers, kidney disease, stroke, gout, asthma, erectile dysfunction, infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome, pregnancy complications, and blood clots. Patients with Class III Obesity also suffer from discrimination, social bias, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Unfortunately, this is only a partial list of issues related to Class III Obesity, and the problems of Obesity are growing worldwide.

Is Obesity a Disability?

The short answer is no. Although several persons with Class III Obesity can have disabling health conditions that result from obesity and could qualify for Disability benefits, the fact is that most people who have Class III Obesity are quite able to perform their work functions. Having Class III Obesity does not automatically qualify someone for benefits.

When discussing the sensitive topic of obesity and its classification as a disability, a clinician may approach the conversation with empathy and factual information. While acknowledging the challenges and struggles faced by individuals living with obesity, the clinician may explain that obesity, in itself, does not meet the medical definition of a disability. They may emphasize that disability typically refers to a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Instead, the clinician might highlight the importance of adopting a holistic approach to managing obesity, focusing on promoting healthier lifestyle choices, personalized treatment plans, and supportive resources. By conveying this message, the clinician aims to empower the patient, encouraging them to take an active role in their health while fostering a sense of personal agency and responsibility.

Learn more about Class III Obesity: