Trend of the Overweight Rate Among Americans with Mental Retardation

Kiyoshi Yamaki and Glenn T. Fujiura
University of Illinois at Chicago, 2002

What the Project is About:
Although much attention has focused on Americans who are overweight, our knowledge about the overweight among Americans with mental retardation is limited. It is because a relatively small number of people from a limited geographical area participated in earlier studies. Without the national level data, it is difficult to know if people with mental retardation are at a risk of developing health problems, and to find out if they need any help with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Thus, in this study, we attempted to answer the following three general questions:
1. What is the overweight rate among people with mental retardation nationally? Is the rate changing over the years?
2. Among persons with mental retardation, who is more likely to be overweight than others? Is it changing over the years?
3. Does the overweight status among people with mental retardation differ from other Americans?

How We Did It:
We used the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data from 1985 to 2000. The NHIS is a national-level household survey conducted every year by the federal government. After combining the 16 years of data, our analyses were based on the information from 1.4 million Americans who were 18 years and older. Included were over 3,000 people who have mental retardation.

What We Found:
  • The most recent national level estimate, representing four years from 1997 to 2000, indicated that 65% of adults with mental retardation in the nation are overweight.
  • The rate increased from 46% in the late 1980s.
  • Across years, the occurrence of overweight did not appear to be different between males and females; and between people 18-39 years old and people 40 years and older.
  • A prevalence of overweight found among females with mental retardation, age 18 to 39, was about twenty-percentage point higher than their counterparts in the general population across years.
  • The rates for older females (age 40 and above) and for males (regardless of their age) were not different from the American people in general.

In summary, a large proportion of people with mental retardation in the nation appeared to be overweight and the rate was increasing over the years. The overweight occurrence among people with mental retardation did not differ across gender and age. When compared to the general population, young females with mental retardation reported a higher rate of overweight.

How the Advocate Advisor Can Help:
  • Do you agree that many people are overweight?
  • Are people aware of their weight status or a risk of being overweight?
  • What can we do to help them to lower their risks?
  • Why do you think that there is a big difference of the overweight occurrence between young females with and without mental retardation?

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