Health—physical, mental and emotional—is important for everyone. People with disabilities can be impacted by poorer overall health due to various barriers, including health care and increased rates of chronic diseases. Secondary conditions (i.e. pain, fatigue, weakness and depression) are often associated as well. Many of these conditions can be prevented or alleviated with lifestyle modifications and preventive care.
People with disabilities are more likely to experience the following risk factors compared to people without disabilities:
- Difficulties or delays in getting the health care they need.
- No annual dental visit.
- No mammogram in past two years.
- No Pap test within the past three years.
- Hardly any fitness activities.
- Use tobacco.
- Be overweight or obese.
- Have high blood pressure.
- Experience symptoms of psychological distress.
- Receive less social-emotional support.
- Have lower employment rates.
Persons with disabilities are at much higher risk for developing chronic health diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke due to obesity, decreased activity, poor nutrition, and metabolic changes that occur with some disabilities and injuries.
Most health promotion activities fail to address the unique needs and challenges that people with disabilities face when it comes to adopting these lifestyle improvements. However proper nutrition, exercise and preventive health care practices can help both children and adults improve health and well being and decrease the risk of chronic diseases and secondary conditions that often accompany disabilities.
Good nutrition plays a role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers. It also reduces the risk of nutrient deficiencies which can occur in people with disabilities, especially those with feeding, chewing, or swallowing problems or who take certain medications. The following resources provide more information about nutrition and disabilities.
Nutrition for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities – Nutrition Standards of Care from the Montana Disability and Health Program.
The Student’s Guide to Nutrition
Student guide to nutrition with information for everyone from BestColleges.com.
Disability and Health in the United States Chartbook – Examines health-related differences between disabled and non-disabled non-institutionalized adults aged 18 years and over including education, income, and employment, health status, health risk factors, access to care and clinical preventive services.
Student Health and Wellness Guide – Quick guide from OnlineColleges.net that provides various health and wellness tips, related to exercise, nutrition, sleep and more, for students.
American Association on Health and Disability – Supports health promotion and wellness initiatives for children and adults with disabilities. Provides an online health promotion resource center, database of model programs and best practices and publishes the journal, Disability and Health.
Overweight and Obesity Among People with Disabilities – Fact sheet from the CDC with information, statistics, and resources.
National Ability Center: Adaptive Recreation for People with Disabilities – The National Ability Center is committed to the development of lifetime skills for people of all ages and abilities by providing affordable outdoor sports and recreational experiences in a nurturing environment.
Inclusive Fitness Coalition – The mission of the Inclusive Fitness Coalition is to facilitate an expanded coordination of organizations and individuals to address the complexity of personal, social, cultural, political, and economic factors that influence -positively and negatively – the participation of people with disabilities in physical activity, fitness, sports and recreation.
American Association on Health and Disability – The mission of the American Association on Health and Disability (AAHD) is to advance health promotion and wellness initiatives and reduce health disparities for children and adults with disabilities through research, education, public policy and awareness.
HealthMatters Program – Partnership between community and academia with a common aim to improve health of people with developmental disabilities (DD).