Disabled Teens More Likely to be Obese and Use Extreme Weight Loss Measures

Teenagers with physical or mental disabilities are more likely to be obese compared to teens who don’t have disabilities, according to new research presented at the recent American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

The researchers found that the prevalence of obesity among the disabled teens was 16 percent compared to 10 percent for teens who were not disabled and that those with disabilities were less likely to get 60 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week and to have healthy eating habits such as eating salads, vegetables, fruit and 100 percent fruit juices every week. Teens with a disability were also more likely to try unhealthy weight loss strategies, such as fasting, using laxatives or diet pills and purging.

“As children with disabilities reach their teenage years, they are not immune to societal expectations for being thin,” said Mia Papas, lead researcher of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Delaware. “This is one of the first studies to demonstrate that children with disabilities, both girls and boys, are at increased risk for unhealthy weight control behaviors such as overuse of diet pills and laxatives, purging and fasting,” she said. “Since these children have fewer opportunities for physical activity and may face other dietary challenges they are left with limited healthy weight control options and are more likely to engage in extreme measures to lose weight. Successful obesity interventions need to target diet, physical activity, and eating behavior disorders among adolescents with disabilities.”

Data for the study was obtained from the 2011 U.S. National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Study. Researchers reviewed data on close to 10,000 adolescents ages 12 to 18 from North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Delaware.

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