North American children with ID have higher rates of obesity compared to the rest of the world

By Meghann Lloyd, PhD
University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Obesity is one of the largest health concerns facing health professionals and health care systems around the world. One group that continues to experience poor health, including high obesity rates, is individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID). However, most of the information about obesity in individuals with ID is on adults, and not children. The purpose of this study was to describe body fat (body mass index) status of children and youth with ID by world region, gender and age.

What did you do in your research?
The Special Olympics International organizes free Healthy Athletes evaluations at local, national and international sporting events; and the information is then added to their database (Special Olympics Health Promotion database). The following information was gathered for this study: gender, date of birth, date of event (age calculated), height, weight, and geographic region. We examined geographical and gender differences and overweight and obesity rates.

What did you find out?
Approximately, 30% of the Special Olympics athletes in this study were overweight or obese; however, the numbers for North America were much higher. Fifty-four percent (54%) of the girls were overweight or obese. Both age and gender were strong predictors of being overweight or obese in North America, which was not the same for other areas of the world.

What are the take-home messages?
Obesity is a big health concern for children and youth with ID around the world. The obesity issue in this group is very high in North America, and this can increase with age depending where you live. It is very important that health professionals lead more health promotion efforts, including physical activity and healthy eating behaviors for children and youth with ID.

To learn more about these findings contact Meghann Lloyd.

Full Journal Article
Lloyd, M., Temple, V., & Foley, J. (2012). International BMI comparison of children and youth with intellectual disabilities participating in Special Olympics. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33(6), 1708–1714.