Explaining the increasing disability prevalence among mid-life US adults, 2002 to 2016

Soc Sci Med. 2018 Aug;211:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.05.041. Epub 2018 May 24.


Several recent studies have documented an alarming upward trend in disability and functional limitations among US adults. In this study, we draw on the sociomedical Disablement Process framework to produce up-to-date estimates of the trends and identify key social and medical precursors of the trends. Using data on US adults aged 45-64 in the 2002-2016 National Health Interview Surveys, we estimate parametric and semiparametric models of disability and functional limitations as a function of interview time. We also determine the impact of socioeconomic resources, health behaviors, and health conditions on the trends. Our results show increasing prevalence of disability and functional limitations. These trends reflect the net result of complex countervailing forces, some associated with increases in functioning problems (unfavorable trends in economic well-being, especially income, and psychological distress) while other factors have suppressed the growth of functioning problems (favorable trends in educational attainment and some health behaviors, such as smoking and alcohol use). The results underscore that disability prevention must expand beyond medical interventions to include fundamental social factors and be focused on preventing or delaying the onset of chronic health problems and functional limitations.

Keywords: Disability; Functioning; Income; Social determinants; Trend; US adults.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology