Middle-aged adults with ID are more likely to have higher BMI

Kelly Hsieh, PhD
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Developmental Disabilities and Health, University of Illinois at Chicago

Individuals with intellectual disability (ID) are at risk for obesity and physical inactivity. Obesity and physical inactivity are a primary cause of most chronic diseases. The weight and physical activity of adults with ID may also be influenced by social-environmental characteristics. It is crucial to understand the association between social-environmental factors (e.g., residence type, community participation, everyday choice) and above-normal weight and physical inactivity.

What did you do in your research?
This study analyzed data from a subset of 4,282 respondents drawn from the 2009-2010 National Core Indicators (NCI) project. The objective of this study is two-fold: (1) to investigate the impact of the adulthood stages (e.g. young = 20-39 years, middle = 40-59 years, older = 60+ years) on body mass index (BMI) and physical activity of individuals living in community settings, and (2) to examine the relationship between social-environmental context (i.e., residence type, everyday choices, and community participation) and BMI, as well as physical activity.

What did you find out?
The majority of this population has an above-normal BMI (25 kg/m² and over) and does not engage in sufficient physical activity to achieve optimum health benefits. Middle-aged adults with ID are more likely to have an above normal BMI. Adulthood stage had no impact on physical activity. Regarding socio-environmental factors, individuals with ID who live in less supervised settings are more likely to have a higher than normal BMI, but those involved in community participation are less likely to have an elevated BMI. We also found adults with ID who have more daily choices to make, tend to have an increased BMI.

What are the take-home messages?
There is a need to pay more attention to weight management in adults with ID, particularly in the middle-adulthood stage, perhaps by providing health education and emphasizing healthy choices. Given the low levels of physical activity engagement documented, as well as the lower likelihood of having a higher-than-normal BMI for those involved in the community, it appears that community participation may serve as an avenue to promoting more physical activity among persons with ID. Future research should further examine personal choices, for instance, how persons with ID spend their free time and the items that they choose to purchase.

To learn more about these findings contact Kelly Hsieh.

Full Journal Article
Hsieh, K., Heller, T., Bershadsky. J., & Taub, S. (2015). Impact of adulthood stage and social-environmental context on body mass index and physical activity of individuals with intellectual disability. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 53(2), 100-113.