Teens With Disabilities May Face Greater Obesity Risk

Teens with physical or mental disabilities are more likely to be obese compared with adolescents without disabilities, according to new research presented at the American Public Health Association's 142nd Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

Researchers found that the prevalence of obesity among adolescents with a disability was 16% compared with 10% for adolescents without a disability. Teens with disabilities were less likely to engage in 60 minutes of physical activity at least five days per week and were less likely to exhibit healthier nutrition habits such as consuming green salads, vegetables, fruit, and 100% fruit juices on a weekly basis.

Surprisingly, adolescents with a disability were less likely to watch two or more hours of television compared with obese adolescents without a disability.

Teens with a disability also were more likely to engage in unhealthful weight-loss strategies, such as fasting, using laxatives or diet pills, and purging compared with adolescents without a disability.

"As children with disabilities reach their teenage years, they aren't immune to societal expectations for being thin," says Mia Papas, PhD, lead study researcher and an assistant professor at the University of Delaware. "This is one of the first studies to demonstrate that children with disabilities, both girls and boys, are at increased risk for unhealthful weight control behaviors such as overuse of diet pills and laxatives, purging, andfasting. Since these children have fewer opportunities for physical activity and may face other dietary challenges they are left with limited healthful weight control options and are more likely to engage in extreme measures tolose weight.

"Successful obesity interventions need to target diet, physical activity, and eating behavior disorders among adolescents with disabilities," Papas continues. "Understanding barriers to healthier diets and physical activity for this population is critical to developing effective obesity prevention programs."

Data for the study were collected from the 2011 US National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Study. Researchers reviewed sample data from North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Delaware in which9,775 participants between ages 12 and 18 responded to survey questions. Participants were asked about their physical or mental disability status alongside a host of other questions evaluating their nutrition, physical activity, and recreational activity.

Source: American Public Health Association