Study Examines Obesity Among Special-Needs Children 29344

Thirteen percent of American families include children with physical or developmental disabilities, but those families are left out of education and action campaigns around the obesity epidemic, a report from a special-needs advocacy group says.  The findings have led, an online resource and social community for parents and professionals serving the needs of adults and children with disabilities, to release a report called Finding Balance, with the goal of raising awareness of obesity among kids with autism, Down syndrome, and other disabilities, and offering tools to parents to help combat obesity in their families.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children with disabilities are 38% more likely to be obese than their counterparts.  "As a community, we must recognize the special dangers that obesity presents to our children," says Sheryl Young, CEO of, "This is an epidemic in our own homes and we can and must find solutions."

The report provides more startling statistics:

  • 67.1% of the teens with autism spectrum disorder were either overweight or obese.
  • 86.2% of the teens with Down syndrome were either overweight or obese.
  • 18.8% of the teens with cerebral palsy were either overweight or obese.
  • 83.1% of the teens with spina bifida were either overweight or obese.
  • 39.6% of the teens with intellectual disability were either overweight or obese.

Food aversions are common among special-needs children, among other reasons because medications often have appetite-altering side effects.  Mobility limitations also make it difficult for many children to be active enough to maintain a healthy weight. Increasing accessibility for play spaces, and including special-needs children in obesity studies and policy conversations are among the recommendation the report makes.

The report, which is in collaboration with Special Olympics and Best Buddies International, can be downloaded at the AbilityPath website.