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Trends in Obesity Among Social Security Disability Applicants, 2007-2013
DRC Working Paper Number 2016-02
Publisher: Washington, DC: Center for Studying Disability Policy, Mathematica Policy Research
Feb 10, 2016
- In general, initial disability applicants are much more likely than the working-age population to be obese (40.2 versus 28.8 percent in 2013), with that difference partly reflecting differences in other characteristics between the two groups. After controlling for age, sex, race, and education, the gap is approximately halved, but still substantial.
- Obesity among disability applicants has risen steadily in recent years, from 37.4 percent in 2007 to 40.2 percent in 2013. This increase of 2.8 percentage points was higher than the 1.8 percent growth in obesity prevalence within the working-age population over the same period (from 27.0 to 28.8 percent). Obesity prevalence among initial applicants is highest among those with impairments affecting the musculoskeletal, endocrine, cardiovascular, and special/other body systems.
- Obese applicants face higher levels of adjudication before receiving an allowance. Among initial determinations in 2013, there was no strong correlation between body system and obesity, although in many body systems, obese applicants had lower allowance rates than their non-obese peers. Among applications at the ALJ level in 2013, obese applicants were at least as likely, and often more likely, to receive an allowance than their non-obese counterparts. Further study following a cohort of applications through the full application process would be valuable to more fully assess the role of obesity in disability determinations.
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