Individualized Health Management: Nutritional Issues and Disability
By Michelle Bohan Brown
When it comes to health, nutrition and physical activity, guidelines for the overall population are the current standard for advice. However, these guidelines do not take into account physical, genetic, and physiological factors that affect smaller groups within the overall population. Research is working towards understanding smaller groups and their body’s requirements and needs to provide individual’s better advice for health and well-being.
Unlike the program CSI on television where results are known in a few hours, nutrition research takes years of carefully conducted and controlled studies to understand how nutrition affects the body. Most research to date has involved non-disabled populations. However, even in a time with tight budgets, more research money is being designated to study populations that are underserved by knowledge gained from the general population. The NIH has several funding opportunities for the study of nutrition and physical activity in persons with disabilities. In addition, several private foundations have designated money to investigate obesity and underserved populations. These opportunities will allow scientists to better understand the nutritional needs of the body in persons with disabilities so that dietary guidelines can be developed to give advice that fits the needs of each specific group.
Currently, the My Plate guidelines are given to all individuals as a part of nutrition advice. However, the guidelines are based on research from the general population, which may or may not be applicable to certain subgroups of people with disabilities. Exclusion criteria for the nutritional studies used to formulate the guidelines often include physical disabilities, metabolic and genetic disorders. Therefore, the guidelines are adequate for the population at large but do not always fit the needs of each individual or subsets of the population. Researchers are starting to identify subsets of the population to determine the impact of more individualized nutrition guidelines vs. population-based guidelines.
Understanding how to improve the health and well-being of individuals with disabilities through targeted nutrition is reaching higher levels of importance among various federal funding agencies.