Guest Blog

Obesity in the Disabled Community and What We Can Do About It

The CDC states that children and adults with mobility limitations and intellectual disabilities are at the greatest risk of suffering from obesity. Not only that, the annual healthcare costs of obesity that are related to disability are estimated at approximately $44 billion. This begs the question - what needs to be done to help people with disabilities help themselves to lead better, healthier lives without criticism or stigma and in a way that uses inclusive and direct language? 

Obesity and disability - their relationship explained.

Staying at a healthy weight can often be tricky for disabled people - and disabled people are more likely to suffer from obesity than those without disabilities. There is a complex physical relationship between obesity and disability. 

It can limit a person’s ability to exercise, but of course - we need to move to stay fit and well. Disabled people often report that they experience lower energy levels too - often due to chronic pain, and these together can discourage someone from exercising. 

Sometimes, people with disabilities find accessing gyms difficult - not to mention unwelcoming - whether that’s due to prejudice, stigma, or a general lack of knowledge about how different disabilities affect people. 

Weight management and disability 

People with disabilities often face unique obstacles related to their conditions, which can make it hard to eat healthily and also get regular exercise. There are social factors at play too, often feelings of isolation and loneliness contribute, or there may be a general lack of exercise facilities to use in the area a disabled person lives in.

It can be difficult to make the best, healthiest food choices when mental and physical energy is low - or there are dexterity issues. Couple this with the food insecurity many people are facing with current global challenges - and this can make eating well a lot trickier. 

Additional factors include medications and treatments a disabled person might need to take which can often lead to weight gain and appetite changes as a side effect.

How do we tackle obesity in the disabled community?

Disabled people can control their weight and live a healthier lifestyle - sometimes, it’s all about adapting and learning new ways of doing things to suit that person’s way of life. 

First, let's look at physical activity. How much physical activity should we be aiming for? As a guide, adults should aim for 150 minutes of physical activity per week. However, if you’re a person with a disability trying to lose weight it can be a good idea to increase this to 225 minutes a week. To put that into context - it’s 3 and ¾ hours per week, which works out to roughly half an hour every day. 

There are ways to be active in the home - and at work! People with disabilities are often more likely to engage in sedentary behaviors in both their jobs and in their safe spaces -  perhaps if they work in an office job, and don’t move around a lot during a working day. 

There are simple steps to help with this such as thesefantastic wheelchair exercise tips - that can be done at a desk, or wherever you happen to be sitting. They encourage gentle movement and are not difficult to work into a daytime or evening routine. They can also be adapted if you’re sitting in a regular chair, or even from a standing position. 

Diet and nutrition

We’ve set out the challenges that disabled people face with food and eating - and often, they’re not that different from the ones many people on limited incomes face.

Firstly, it’s important to say that relying on ready meals and prepared fruits and vegetables is not a cop-out, nor is it lazy. In fact, if you’re trying to lose weight, they can be a boon - as everything is prepackaged and often calorie-controlled, too. 

They won’t take up much energy to cook - as they can be heated in a microwave, and it’s perfectly OK to rely on these for nutrition if that’s the best way for you to eat and live well. Make sure to include a variety of fruits and veggies - tinned and frozen all count and are easy to deal with, requiring no preparation in many cases.

Plan meals and make a grocery list every week - so it's easier to stick to a budget and know what to buy and what to avoid. Often support workers will help with this kind of task - and help you decide what to eat and when. 

Make sure each meal has a portion of vegetables - like prepared greens or salad, or a simple bowl of vegetable soup with crusty bread! Use fruit as a sweet treat instead of highly sweetened and sugar-laden alternatives like ice cream or cakes. However, it is important to find balance and allow treats too - like a meal out every now and again or a bar of a favorite chocolate. 

Living well with a disability is possible! Make some small, easy changes today.

by Nina Mendip

Nina C. S. is passionate about breaking down tough ideas into enjoyable reads. She's always eager to find new platforms and connect with more readers. Outside of writing, she loves discovering cozy cabins and mountain retreats, and relaxing with her family and friends.