Obesity and Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities A Research to Policy Brief

William H. Neumeier1, Christine Grosso2, James H. Rimmer1

1 University of Alabama at Birmingham and Lakeshore Foundation Research Collaborative

2 Association of University Centers on Disabilities

Obesity is an increasingly common condition that is characterized by an increase in the number and size of fat cells in the body. Obesity is most commonly measured by Body Mass Index (BMI), with a BMI ranging from 25-29.9 kilograms per meter squared (kg/m2) indicating an individual is overweight, and a rate greater than 30 kg/m2 indicating a state of obesity. Rates of overweight and obesity among child and adult populations are an increasing healthcare concern. The number of individuals who are overweight or obese has increased over the past 40 years [1]. This has resulted in an increased focus, understanding, and action for obesity treatment.

Obesity rates are a concern for the general population, but research findings consistently report even higher rates of obesity among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report approximately 35% of the general population is obese, while the rate of obesity among adults with IDD is as high as 58.5% in the United States [2-5]. The consequences of obesity predispose adults with IDD to a greater risk of secondary health conditions that can impair their health status and quality of life. In addition, individuals with IDD may possess non-modifiable risk factors for obesity, such as mobility limitations or factors related to the individual’s diagnosis. Secondary risk factors, such as barriers to physical activity, lack of social support, higher levels of food insecurity, limited access to proper nutrition, medications that may influence weight, and transportation, may also increase susceptibility to obesity for a child or adult with IDD [2, 6]. In total, obesity is a complex, multi-faceted condition that needs greater attention in the IDD population. The 2005 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities emphasizes equal opportunities for healthy living for individuals with disabilities. This policy brief will highlight known issues related to obesity in general, issues uniquely related to obesity for individuals with IDD, and provide recommendations and resources for addressing these issues.

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