Physical Activity to Reduce Obesity in Children with Disabilities
This article includes work prepared by Dr. James Rimmer, Dr. Jennifer Rowland, and Dr. Kiyoshi Yamaki as part of a grant from the National Institutes of Disability and Rehabilitation Research to examine obesity in adolescents with disabilities.
By Jennifer Rowland, Ph.D.
Children and adolescents with disabilities have a higher prevalence of being overweight compared to their non-disabled peers. This health risk can lead to a greater number of obesity-related secondary conditions (e.g., fatigue, pain, deconditioning, social isolation, difficulty performing activities of daily living) and can impose significant personal and economic hardship on the child and family.
Several studies have reported that people with disabilities are more likely to be sedentary and experience substantially more barriers to physical activity participation compared to the general population. Sedentary behaviors, such as watching television or videos, and/or playing computer games, have already been linked to reduced physical activity levels among youth without disabilities. These sedentary behaviors are likely to be higher among youth with disabilities because of physical, sensory, and/or cognitive impairments that make it more difficult to participate in competitive sports and recreational games with other youth who have more refined motor skills and higher fitness levels. As a result of not being able to compete successfully in sports and recreational activities, youth with disabilities may avoid more physically demanding activities that require higher energy expenditure (i.e., soccer, basketball) and are therefore likely to have greater amounts of time (i.e., after school, weekends) spent in sedentary behaviors.
Secondary conditions associated with a primary disability can also adversely impact a youth's ability to participate in moderate to vigorous physical activity. For example, many youth with cerebral palsy and spina bifida experience joint and muscle pain resulting from the long-term effects of spasticity or overusing muscle groups necessary for manually pushing a wheelchair or using crutches to ambulate. Low physical fitness, balance impairments, and poor coordination skills also make it more difficult for youth with disabilities to participate in team sports with their non-disabled peers.
Find more information on youth sports and fitness programs on the NCHPAD website, go to:
Specific examples include:
- The Rationale and Benefits of Sport Participation for Youth of All Abilities (http://www.ncpad.org/397/2171/The~Rationale~and~Benefits~of~Sport~Participation~for~
- Parental Roles in Facilitating and Supporting an Active Lifestyle for a Child with a Disability (http://www.ncpad.org/398/2175/Parental~Roles~in~Facilitating~and~Supporting~an~Active~
- Maintaining or Improving Fitness in Childhood Disorders(http://www.ncpad.org/326/1960/Maintaining~or~Improving~Fitness~in~Childhood~Disorders)
- Thera-Band; Elastic Band Program For Kids (http://www.ncpad.org/225/1482/Thera-Band~reg~Elastic~Band~Program~For~Kids)
- Thera-Band; Exercise Ball Program for Kids (http://www.ncpad.org/224/1464/Thera-Band~reg~Exercise~Ball~Program~for~Kids)
- Teens on the Move: An Exercise Video for Teens with Spina Bifida( http://www.ncpad.org/416/2237/Teens~on~the~Move~~An~Exercise~Video~for~Teens~with~
- Adapted Yoga for Children and Youth with Cerebral Palsy (http://www.ncpad.org/297/1849/Adapted~Yoga~for~Children~and~Youth~with~Cerebral~