Disability trends among older Americans: National Health And Nutrition Examination Surveys, 1988-1994 and 1999-2004

Am J Public Health. 2010 Jan;100(1):100-7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2008.157388.


Objectives: We investigated trends in disability among older Americans from 1988 through 2004 to test the hypothesis that more recent cohorts show increased burdens of disability.

Methods: We used data from 2 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1988-1994 and 1999-2004) to assess time trends in basic activities of daily living, instrumental activities, mobility, and functional limitations for adults aged 60 years and older. We assessed whether changes could be explained by sociodemographic, body weight, or behavioral factors.

Results: With the exception of functional limitations, significant increases in each type of disability were seen over time among respondents aged 60 to 69 years, independent of sociodemographic characteristics, health status, relative weight, and health behaviors. Significantly greater increases occurred among non-Whites and persons who were obese or overweight (2 of the fastest-growing subgroups within this population). We detected no significant trends among respondents aged 70 to 79 years; in the oldest group (aged>or=80 years), time trends suggested lower prevalence of functional limitations among more recent cohorts.

Conclusions: Our results have significant and sobering implications: older Americans face increased disability, and society faces increased costs to meet the health care needs of these disabled Americans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Mass Index
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mobility Limitation
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology