Disparities in obesity and related conditions among Americans with disabilities

Am J Prev Med. 2013 Jul;45(1):83-90. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.02.021.


Background: Despite representing nearly 20% of the U.S. population, individuals with disabilities are invisible in obesity surveillance and intervention efforts.

Purpose: The current study (1) compares obesity and extreme obesity prevalence between Americans with and without disabilities and (2) examines the association between BMI category and weight-related chronic disease risk factors in both groups.

Methods: In 2012, six waves of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES, 1999-2010) were pooled to compare the prevalence of obesity and extreme obesity between adults (aged ≥20 years, N=31,990) with disabilities (n=11,556) versus without disabilities (n= 20,434). Chronic disease risk factors (blood pressure, lipids, C-reactive protein [CRP], glucose) were compared across weight categories, by disability severity, and disability status.

Results: Obesity (41.6%) and extreme obesity (9.3%) prevalence among those with disabilities were significantly higher than they were among those without disabilities (29.2% and 3.9%, respectively). Disability severity and disability status negatively affected nearly all chronic disease risk factors. Additionally, there was a disability-by-weight interaction: people with disabilities at all weight categories were significantly more likely to report being told they had hypertension, high cholesterol, or diabetes and to have been prescribed antihypertensive and lipid-lowering medications.

Conclusions: The prevalence of obesity (41.6%) and extreme obesity (9.3%) found in individuals with disabilities is high. When compared to obese adults without disabilities, obese adults with disabilities are more likely to have diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and higher CRP. Thus, the study provides convincing evidence of obesity-related health disparities between Americans with and without disabilities.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity, Morbid / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult