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Obesity Impacting More With Disabilities


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New research indicates that obesity is a far greater problem for people with disabilities than previously thought.

Nearly 42 percent of American adults with disabilities are obese and 9 percent are extremely obese, according to a study being published in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

In comparison, about 29 percent of adults without disabilities were found to be obese and 3.9 percent were identified as extremely obese, the study found.

The research is believed to be the first to examine weight issues among Americans with disabilities using actual measurements of height and weight from the individuals studied rather than anecdotal reports alone.

“Prior to this research, national samples only indicated obesity prevalence in adults with disabilities at 29 to 31 percent,” said Katherine Froehlich-Grobe, an associate professor of health promotion and behavioral science at The University of Texas School of Public Health, Dallas Regional Campus and the study’s lead author. “We were surprised at the magnitude of how high obesity prevalence was among those with a disability.”

For the study, Froehlich-Grobe and her colleagues looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a routine federal data collection that includes information from physical examinations and interviews with Americans about their health and nutrition status. The researchers compared obesity rates and health information from more than 11,500 adults with disabilities to that of over 20,000 people without disabilities whose experiences were documented in the survey.

In addition to higher obesity rates, people with disabilities had greater incidence of chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol and were twice as likely to take lipid-lowering drugs and prescription medication for high blood pressure, the study found.

Froehlich-Grobe said the findings highlight the need for physicians and national obesity-prevention efforts to do more to help people with disabilities manage their weight.

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Comments (13 Responses)

  1. Allison Brown says:

    This really doesn’t surprise me.

    1) On one side of the coin you have a group of members who are robbing the government, sitting at home, eating food always!
    2) On the other side of the coin you have genuine members of society who want to work, but for whatever reason is unable to. Sitting at home overall doesn’t require much energy. No energy = less calories needed. In reality though we still eat the same amount though!

  2. says:

    It’s certainly difficult to shake the weight once you are paralyzed. As a c5-6 quad, I struggle constantly with my weight. It’s just plain difficult once you become sedentary.

  3. Connie Allison says:

    Much of this can be explained in these areas. Good nutritious food costs more money than low value food and many disabled are very low income. Education on healthy eating is a life skill that is not always valued in special education or in supported living programs. Many with disabilities are on psychiatric medications that have weight gain as a major side effect. It takes dedicated support staff and family to encourage community access and physical activity. Getting away from the TV is good for all. Growing a garden for healthy eating and outdoor activity is good for the pocketbook and reducing stress and anxiety. Kudos to all those who support individuals with disabilities who are doing just this!

  4. Marilyn M. BakerSmith says:

    I am a person with multiple disabilities before I got to this state, I remember thinking that if the people riding around on the electric chairs, would be better if they lost weigh. DON’T judge people, which came first the disability or the weigh gain? The disability and no option of excercise makes alot of people over weigh. Some medications such as steriods side effect is increased weight, and if you are getting food stamps you alotment is probaly $11.00 per month. Does go far in the fresh vegatable section. Cheap food that is assessible for persons with disabilities is unhealthy. What would be your solution? PS I still work full time and my son who is blind and has development disabilities works in a sheltered workshop. What would happen to you if your child had the barriers that mine does? Know of any adult daycare centers? Some of us try really hard to be self sufficent.

  5. MsAmericanPatriot says:


    They want to work but business would rather hire the illegal which can be paid under the table than make reasonable accommodations for a disabled worker who would be the most loyal worker they would ever and could ever have.

  6. deefreddy says:

    As a teacher, my students learn about healthy eating and foods. But their weight problems start long before I starting working with them in high school, and bad habits are already entrenched. One of the problems is lack of physical activities both during and after school for my students. There is a lack of gym classes, social outings, and groups that support the physical fitness needs of children with disabilities. Most of them spend far too much time at home in front of the computer or TV.

  7. Phillip says:

    The obesity rates for individuals with developmental disabilities has long been an issue years prior to this report. The lifestyle for individual with disabilities, is not conducive to participation in any activity outside of the home. Focus for participation outside of the home, is regulated to special needs camp and Special Olympics for leisure participation. While both of these activities are good for those with disabilities, they are still segregated and do not offer a typical leisure experience, and occur only seldom within the span of a year. Appropriate leisure lifestyles are the foundation for everyone, regardless of disability. The actual assessment to determine sensory, social and modifications needed for this to take place is available, it is often overlooked because it is leisure, and it is often the assumption of school districts and communities alike that it already exists for the individual,

    An appropriate leisure lifestyle with activities that are driven by motivation (choice) of the individual, and at the same address the physical activity needed, can be attained through a formal recreation therapy assessment. Recreation therapy is a related IEP service, and as a current CTRS (Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist), I would encourage anyone who has a student still in school to request it at your next IEP. I have assessed and facilitated leisure skill assessments, in both school (IEP) and community settings. Once you give an individual choice in their own leisure and recreation pursuits, you give them a healthy life style.

  8. Adeola says:

    It is important that researchers and practitioners continue to research and discuss evidence-based interventions that will combat the disparities in health outcomes between individuals with disabilities and individuals without disabilities. Health and wellness for people with disabilities need to become a part of national discussions about health.

    Here in NJ and Texas we are providing health/wellness services for people with disabilities through our Get FIT initiative.

  9. Chase Pantoja says:

    A huge problem in the disability community is the fact that they lack the opportunity to exercise, and by exercise I do not mean gardening or going to the bowling alley. That will not reduce the obesity rate. That will not improve their health. They can do more, and they want to do more so it is up to us as a society to be able to provide them those opportunities.

  10. fairlady68 says:

    In my case, I overeat to allay the pain of life with Asperger’s. I am working on changing my habits and finding other soothing behaviors, but it’s hard. Executive function difficulties can make it hard to practice impulse control and self discipline. So you have a double whammy: Hard to limit the things I like (eating packaged food and sweets, sitting around reading) which are not the best for me, and hard to get started doing the things that I don’t like as well (cooking, exercising) that are better for me.

  11. jackie says:

    another contributing factor, at least as far as my experience goes- food is used as a reward, or to diffuse anger issues- those with aggressive tendencies have been plyed with food to divert them from other, possibly harmful, activities- and after a lifetime of these food bribes, it is difficult to extinguish this method, both for the recipient and the caretakers. emotional eating is a problem in much of the human population suffers with. i agree with throwing out the television, & getting outside & moving, even if mobility is limited- and only purchase fruit/veggies, not processed snack foods.

  12. Jakki says:

    I have seen this with my 25 year old daughter with cerebral palsy and bi-polar. After high school she began to put on weight due to lack of activity and using her wheelchair everyday to walk to school. She had an adorable shape at her 4’7″ height weighing about 100 lbs. Now 6 years later she is @ 125 and doesn’t seem to care. She eats much junk and eats dinner very late at night. She started a weight loss program but was too discourage and stopped after 6-7 visits. It breaks my heart as this of course has added to her already fragile self esteem. I don’t know what the answer is and frankly am very concerned about her health

  13. Jennifer Hoover says:

    Don’t you need to take into consecrations their bone size too. I have an disability and am big boned. I can’t fit all my fingers around my wrist.

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