Physical activity promotion/obesity prevention efforts for children with SHCN are inadequate

By Juhee Kim, MS, Sc.D.
East Carolina University

The number of children in the US with special health care needs (SHCN) is increasing. There is growing evidence of increasing unhealthy behaviors and obesity among this population. Thus, it is important to determine whether current health care delivery meets the needs of children in terms of health promotion and obesity prevention.

What did you do in your research?
We examined the prevalence of physical activity, screen time, and obesity among US children by SHCN category. We used the "service-based classification" rather than disease-specific conditions. The sample of 64,076 children (ages 6-17) in this study was derived from a nationally representative sample of children enrolled in the National Survey of Children’s Health (2007). We examined obesity, physical activity (based on the Healthy People 2010 Goals of 20+ minutes of moderate/vigorous activity at least 3 times per week), and screen time (watching TV/videos, playing video games).

What did you find out?
Of the total sample, 22.9% (n=15,049) were identified as having a SHCN. Of these individuals, 9% used medication only, 3.5% used services only, 5.3% used both medication and services, and 5.1% had functional limitations. Thirty-two percent of children with functional limitations and 30% of children who only used services did not meet recommended physical activity guidelines. In fact, children with SHCN (as opposed to those without) were twice as likely to not meet these recommended guidelines. However, no difference was found between non-SHCN children and those with SHCN who used medication only or medication and services.
Therefore, the results of study show that physical activity promotion programs and obesity prevention efforts for children with SHCN are in great need. In particular, children who have functional limitations and those who do not use prescribed medications to control their health conditions could be derive the greatest benefit.

What are the take-home messages?
This study provides epidemiological data to support the development of health promotion programs specific to different type of service needs. US health care systems need to ensure that children with SHCN have access to health promotion programs to engage in physical activity and reduce obesity.

To learn more about these findings contact Juhee Kim.

Full Journal Article
Kim, J., & Greaney, M.L. (2014). Prevalence of physical activity, screen time, and obesity among US children by the service type of special health care needs. Disability and Health Journal, 7(3), 318–324.