Teens with disabilities

Date: Nov 17 2014

Contact: Kim Short, 202-777-2511, 504-670-7750 (Nov. 14-19)

EMBARGOED UNTIL Nov. 17, 2014, 12:01 a.m. EST

Teens with disabilities may face greater obesity risk

New Orleans –Teens with physical or mental disabilities are more likely to be obese compared to adolescents without disabilities, according to new research presented today 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 percent compared to 10 percent for adolescents without a disability. Teens with disabilities were less likely to engage in 60 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week and were less likely to exhibit healthier nutrition habits such as consuming green salads, vegetables, fruit and 100 percent fruit juices on a weekly basis.

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

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

“As children with disabilities reach their teenage years, they are not immune to societal expectations for being thin,” said Mia Papas, PhD, lead researcher of the study. “This is one of the first studies to demonstrate that children with disabilities, both girls and boys, are at increased risk for unhealthy weight control behaviors such as overuse of diet pills and laxatives, purging and fasting.  Since these children have fewer opportunities for physical activity and may face other dietary challenges they are left with limited healthy weight control options and are more likely to engage in extreme measures to lose weight.

“Successful obesity interventions need to target diet, physical activity, and eating behavior disorders among adolescents with disabilities,” said Papas, Assistant Professor at the University of Delaware. “Understanding barriers to healthier diets and physical activity for this population is critical to developing effective obesity prevention programs.”

Data for the study was collected from the 2011 U.S. National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Study. Researchers reviewed sample data from North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Delaware in which 9,775 participants between 12 and 18 years of age 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.

APHA’s 142nd Annual Meeting is themed, “Healthography: How Where You Live Affects Your Health and Well-Being” and will focus on how health challenges are dictated by place.

Session 3028: Obesity as a Public Health Problem for People with Disabilities: Predictors of obesity among adolescents with disabilities

Date: Monday, Nov. 17, 2014: 10:30 a.m. CST

Researchers: Mia Papas, PhD

Information for media:
The APHA Annual Meeting Press Office will be located in Room 204 of the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Conventions Center

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The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We strengthen the profession of public health, share the latest research and information, promote best practices and advocate for public health issues and policies grounded in research. We are the only organization that combines a 140-plus year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Visit us at www.apha.org.