Adolescents with Disabilities More At Risk for Obesity Compared to Peers, Study Shows

Adolescents with Disabilities More At Risk for Obesity Compared to Peers, Study Shows

shutterstock_151195661Study findings published in the latest issue of the World Journal of Diabetes, show that adolescents with disabilities in the US have higher rates of obesity and are more than 3 times likely than their peers who have no disabilities to be diagnosed with cardiometabolic syndrome (MetS).  The study entitled “Obesity and cardiometabolic disease risk factors among US adolescents with disabilities was conducted by a collaborative group of pediatricians and public health researchers from the University of Miami and University of New Hampshire.

Obesity rates in the U.S. are currently at epidemic levels and are associated with severe psychological and physical health impacts on patients. Being obese in childhood or adolescents is a significant risk factor for becoming part of the obesity epidemic once they reach adulthood. According to the CDC:

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years old in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012.
  • The percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.
  • In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

These statistics are a source of concern for patients and healthcare providers because they have a direct impact on a young person’s potential for developing MetS; a very serious risk to overall health and length of life. MetS is defined as having 3 or more of the following risk factors simultaneously:

  • elevated blood pressure
  • elevated glucose concentrations
  • hypertriglyceridemia
  • low HDL concentrations
  • elevated waist circumference

The researchers utilized the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for their study population.  The eligibility criterion was as follows:

  • Adolescents ages 12-18 years
  • NHANES survey had to have data available on waist circumference, body mass index (BMI), HDL cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure (BP)

A participant was categorized as having a disability if they answered yes to any of the following survey questions:

  • Do you/does child have an impairment or health problem that limits (your/his/her) ability to crawl, walk, run, or play?
  • Is this an impairment or health problem that has lasted, or is expected to last 12 mo or longer?
  • Is (child) limited in the kind or amount of play activities he/she can do because of a physical, mental, or emotional problem?

The reference group was composed of participants that answered no to the questions and did not define themselves as disabled.

5,276 participants met the study’s inclusion criteria and after analysis between the group of adolescents with disabilities to the comparison group the following study findings were observed:

  • Adolescents with disabilities were significantly more likely to be overweight (49.3%), obese (27.6%) and severely obese (12%)vs their peers without disabilities (33.1%, 17.5% and 3.6%).
  • A higher proportion of overweight, obese and severely obese children with disabilities had abnormal systolic BP, fasting lipids and glucose as well as MetS (18.9% of overweight, 32.3% of obese, 55% of severely obese) versus their peers without disabilities (9.7%, 16.8%, 36.3%, respectively).
  • US adolescents with disabilities are over three times as likely to have MetS versus their peers with no disabilities.

These are important findings since they shed light on the need for more attention to be paid by both healthcare providers and parents of adolescents with disabilities, to ensure that they do become overweight or obese, and increase their risk factors for cardio-metabolic disease.

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