High overweight and obesity levels of people with ID worldwide

By Viviene Temple, PhD
School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education, University of Victoria

Body mass index (BMI) is a key indicator of health for adults with intellectual disability (ID). In this population, BMI is a significant predictor of cardio metabolic risk, including hypertension (high blood pressure), hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), and Type 2 diabetes. Although BMI is an important indicator of health and nutrition status, there is a lack of BMI data from most regions of the world.

What did you do in your research?
Special Olympics International (SOI) is a global not-for-profit sporting organization serving people with ID around the world. SOI has seven world-region offices (Africa, Asia-Pacific, East Asia, Europe/Eurasia, Latin America, Middle East/North Africa, and North America) and programs in over 170 countries. In 1997 SOI began offering free health screenings; data from these screenings are entered into SOI databases. These databases are the largest available health database on individuals with ID from around the world. This study examined BMI, a key indictor of health, in a worldwide sample of 11,643 individuals with ID.

What did you find out?
Overall, 5.5% of the sample was underweight, 36.1% was in the normal range, 24.7% was overweight, and 32.1% was obese. Both age and gender were significant predictors of being overweight/obese. Adult Special Olympics participants have high incidence rates of being overweight and obese, particularly women and those from North America.

What are the take-home messages?
Although this study demonstrated high overweight and obesity levels, particularly among women, little is known about the key behaviors associated with BMI status or the extent to which environments (economic, social, and physical) are involved. Further research is needed to inform and coordinate intervention approaches.

To learn more about these findings contact Viviene Temple.

Full Journal Article
Temple, V. A., Foley, J. T. & Lloyd, M. (2014), Body mass index of adults with intellectual disability participating in Special Olympics by world region. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 58: 277–284.

Special Olympics International Health Promotion Programs