July 19, 2013
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Adults with disabilities at higher risk for obesity

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Obesity and excessive obesity are more prevalent in those with disabilities, according to an analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

“Despite representing nearly 20% of the US population, individuals with disabilities are invisible in obesity surveillance and intervention efforts,” researchers wrote.

Of the adults surveyed, 11,556 had disabilities and 20,434 did not. Mobility disabilities were classified as difficulty walking; stooping, crouching, or kneeling; standing up from a chair; and standing for longer than 2 hours. Non-mobility disabilities included mental or emotional problems and difficulty preparing meals, eating, dressing and lifting objects weighing 10 lb. Common causes of disability were arthritis or rheumatism (22.5%) and back or neck problems (20.4%).

Katherine Froehlich-Grobe, PhD 

Katherine Froehlich-Grobe

On average, those with disabilities were older (59.4 years vs. 41.3 years), more likely to be female (57.3% vs. 50%) and more likely to be white (75.8% vs. 68.2%). The mean disability severity score was 6.7, with a range from 0 to 45.

The researchers found that of the adults with disabilities, 41.6% (P<.001)were obese (BMI ≥30) and 9.3% (P<.001) were extremely obese (BMI ≥40) compared with 29.2% (P<.001) of nondisabled adults who were obese and 3.9% (P<.001) who were extremely obese. Those with disabilities had significantly greater waist circumference (100.5 cm vs. 95.8 cm) and body fat percentage (35.7% vs. 33.4%).

Regardless of weight classification, adults with disabilities also were more likely to have high blood pressure (49.7% vs. 20.2%; P<.001), high cholesterol (51.6% vs. 34.2%;P<.001), diabetes (16.5% vs. 4.2%;P<.001) and to be on antihypertensive (44.6% vs. 14.8%;P<.001) or lipid-lowering medications (26.1% vs. 15.8%;P<.001).

“Physical activity and exercise are critical to weight management and those with disabilities should also be as active as they can within the limits of their function and health,” Katherine Froehlich-Grobe, PhD, study researcher and associate professor at University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas, said in a press release. “… The problem faced by providers is knowing what to recommend to those who face mobility issues and for whom walking is neither feasible nor advisable.”

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.