Background and aim: Obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and osteoporosis are the most frequent pathologies among people with a severe reduction of physical activity. The impairment in nutritional status, consequent to quantitative and qualitative inadequacy of diet, could be one of the first steps in the development of co-morbidities in disabled subjects. In order to evaluate this hypothesis we investigated the nutritional status and the food intake in patients with physical or mental disabilities.
Methods and results: Thirty-seven disabled subjects (24 with exclusively physical inactivity and 13 with mental retardation and physical inactivity) mean age 33.5+/-9.2 years and 25 healthy subjects (mean age 31.0+/-9.3 years) were enrolled. Anthropometric measurements, indirect calorimetry, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, dietary intake and biochemical parameters were collected for each subject. Forty percent of disabled were overweight and 14% were obese. Fat free mass (FFM) and bone mineral content (BMC) was lower and fat mass (FM) was higher than able-bodied control. Absolute resting energy expenditure (REE) was lower in disabled subjects, but this difference disappeared when REE was normalized to FFM. Dietary intake resulted unbalanced (16%, 31%, 50% of total daily energy intake derived from protein, lipid and carbohydrate respectively) with a distribution of dietary fatty acid quite far from the recommended ratio [3.1(SFA):4.1(MUFA):1.0(PUFA)] and an excessive consumption of simple carbohydrates (mean intake 17.5+/-4.9%). Insufficient intake of fibre, iron, calcium, potassium and zinc was also found. Finally, alterations in the cholesterol profile were evident in more than one third of the disabled subjects, whereas fasting glucose intolerance was evident in one fourth.
Conclusion: This study shows a consistent nutritional status impairment in disabled patients resulting in an reduction of FFM and BMC, in an over-representation of FM and in a number of biochemical risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The altered nutritional status is counterparted by a widespread inadequacy of dietary patterns. This nutritional and dietary impairment occurs both in subjects with mental and physical diseases.