Not long ago the American Medical Association reclassified obesity as a disease, and according to the California Workers’ Compensation Institute, the change could have a significant effect on workers’ compensation benefits.

To understand the legal significance of the change, it is important to understand the concept of comorbidity. Comorbidity is a term signifying a medical disorder that exists alongside a separate condition, or comorbidity can refer to a medical condition that is linked to another condition. The reclassification of obesity as a disease emphasizes its status as a treatable comorbidity that could arise as a result of a work-related injury or illness.

Illnesses and injuries that arise out of a worker’s employment are covered under California’s workers’ compensation system, and the American Medical Association’s reclassification of obesity means that doctors are more likely now to treat obesity as a disease.

The California Workers’ Compensation Institute concluded that injured workers could see an increase in benefits if a work-related injury or illness leads to a worker’s inactivity and thus to obesity. Also, if a medication prescribed to an injured or ill worker causes obesity, that worker may also be eligible for an increase in benefits.

In other words, there could be a higher number of workers’ compensation claims that list obesity as a comorbidity or a compensable consequence of a work-related injury.

With some professions that demand that workers remain sedentary as a condition of employment, obesity might even be the primary diagnosis in a workers’ comp claim. For example, consider the trucking industry, which requires that workers sit for long periods of time.

In any case, California workers who have been injured or made ill in the course of their employment would do well to explore their legal options for obtaining the full amount of due compensation.

Source: Risk & Insurance, “Report: Reclassification of obesity could have ‘significant’ cost implications,” Nancy Grover, Sept. 16, 2013