The Prevalence of Obesity Among Recent Applicants to Federal Disability Programs

DRC Brief Number 2016-03
Publisher: Washington, DC: Center for Studying Disability Policy, Mathematica Policy Research
Jan 30, 2016
Jody Schimmel Hyde

Key Findings:

  • 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).

Using self-reported height and weight data collected when working-age adults apply for federal disability benefits, we produce obesity prevalence statistics for working-age applicants to Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income from 2007 through 2013. We compare these statistics to those for the U.S. working-age population using nationally representative survey data from the same period, accounting for differences in other characteristics between applicants and the larger population. We find that, even after controlling for such differences, disability applicants are more likely than the general population to be obese, and obesity prevalence among applicants has been rising more rapidly than for their peers.