Obesity Now a Disease: Workers' Comp?

Posted on Aug 16, 2013

obesity workers compJust a few months ago the American Medical Association announced that obesity is now classified as a disease. Not just a disease, but a "treatable disease." The re-classification affects 1/3 of Americans who would be defined as suffering the disease of obesity. What does this mean for North Carolina workers' compensation claims?

Business Insurance predicts that this new way of classifying obesity will cause workers' compensation expenses to increase. Since treating medical doctors of injured workers will prescribe medications and treatments to help the injured worker recover, if the treating doctor believes that a worker's obesity was caused by their employment, thus contributing to a work-related disease, they may advise weight management programs, nutrition classes, gastric bypass surgery, and other procedures to correct or control the injured worker's disease. 

Many diseases are caused by or closely related to obesity, such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Theoretically, should a physician determine that an employee has become diabetic as a result of their obesity, which the doctor determines is caused by their work conditions, the life-long treatment costs associated with diabetes may be considered part of a workers' comp claim.

Successful workers' comp cases involving obesity comprise less than 1% of all reported cases nationally. In the majority of cases, obesity is seen as a pre-existing condition ocurring independently. It may be rare to establish a claim on this condition for workers other than--let's say--doughnut tasters, since North Carolina has a two-pronged test for compensable occupational disease claims:

  1. The disease must be caused by the employment
  2. The employment must place the employee at an increased risk of developing the disease or condition above and beyond the general public


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