Obesity Rates in Youth with Disabilities
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
And that's only part of the story. When it comes to youth with disabilities, the data are even worse. A few studies have reported that children and adolescents with disabilities have higher rates of obesity compared to their age-matched peers without disabilities. This is an alarming statistic, given that the rate of obesity among non-disabled youth during the past four decades has increased more than threefold across children of all ages, from infants to adolescents.
In recent data that we have collected at NCHPAD through a national web-based survey examining the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related secondary conditions in more than 600 parents who have a child with a physical or cognitive disability, obesity rates were 35% higher for White youth, 27% higher for Black youth, and 29% higher for Hispanic youth. Secondary conditions were also higher among youth with disabilities who were overweight compared to their peers with disabilities who were not overweight. These included higher rates of asthma, depression, sleep disorders, precocious puberty, fatigue, depression, and low self-esteem.
An effective national strategy to lower obesity among youth with disabilities and reduce the potential risk of obesity-related secondary conditions requires interventions that begin early in life to instill healthy behaviors before the child reaches adulthood. The concept of changing a behavior involves early intervention in order to identify and eliminate poor habits that can impair health in the long term. This includes factors and processes that influence the initiation, continuation, and/or cessation of lifestyle choices (such as inadequate physical activity and poor dietary practices) as they relate to being overweight or obese. Often these factors and processes are initiated in childhood or adolescence when abstract thinking and cognition are developed and embedded into the nervous system.
An effective national strategy to lower overweight/obesity among youth with disabilities and reduce the potential risk of obesity-related secondary conditions in adulthood must focus on prevention strategies that begin early in life so that healthy lifestyle habits are established during this important developmental period. New technologies such as active video games may be one approach to getting children with and without disabilities to move more in hope of replacing some of the common sedentary behaviors observed in many children, including watching TV and playing non-active video games. In a recent paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (October, 2008), researchers noted that if obesity continues increasing in this country, by the year 2030, more than 16% of all health care expenditures -- or a staggering $860 billion -- will go towards treating obesity-related disorders. We cannot afford to sit on our hands any longer and must begin recognizing that while obesity is a common threat to many youth, it is an even greater threat to the health and welfare of youth with disabilities.
Please send any questions or comments to Jim Rimmer, NCHPAD Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.