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47.5 Million U.S. Adults Report a Disability; Arthritis Remains Most Common Cause

Increasing physical activity and reducing or preventing obesity and tobacco use can eliminate some of the underlying causes of disability and prevent secondary conditions in those already affected.

Chart: Top 10 Causes of Disability. Number (in millions) of 47.5 million US Adults with disability; Arthritis or rheumatism: 8.6 million; Back or spine problems: 7.6 million; Heart trouble: 3.0 million; Mental or emotional problem: 2.2 million; Lung or respiratory problem: 2.2 million; Diabetes: 2.0 million; Deafness or hearing problem: 1.9 million; Stiffness or deformity of limbs/extremities: 1.6 million; Blindness or vision problem: 1.5 million; Stroke: 1.1 million.

A CDC study shows that 47.5 million US adults (21.8%) reported a disability [1] in 2005*, an increase of 3.4 million from 1999. Arthritis or rheumatism continues to be the most common cause of disability, while back or spine problems and heart trouble round out the top three causes.

Among adults reporting a disability, the most commonly identified limitations were difficulty climbing a flight of stairs (21.7 million, 10.0%) and walking 3 city blocks (22.5 million, 10.3%). That means that 1 in 10 adults have trouble walking a distance equal to walking from the parking lot to the back of a large store or through a mall.

The number of people reporting a disability increases with age, and women have a higher prevalence of disability than men at all ages. There are approximately as many "baby boomers" (ages 45–64; 17.3 million) affected now as older adults (age 65+, 18.1 million). Given the size of the baby-boom generation, the number of adults with a disability is likely to increase dramatically as the baby boomers enter into higher risk age groups over the next 20 years.

Increasing physical activity and reducing or preventing obesity and tobacco use can eliminate some of the underlying causes of disability for some people and prevent secondary conditions in those already affected.

Reference: [1] Brault, M. Americans with disabilities: 2005, current population reports, P70-117, Washington, DC: US Census Bureau; 2008.

Data Source: CDC. Prevalence and Most Common Causes of Disability Among Adults --- United States, 2005. MMWR 58(16); 421-426.

*Data were collected in June-September 2005 by U.S. Census Bureau using the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP); CDC and the U.S. Census Bureau analyzed the most recent data and released their findings in May 2009.

Chart: Adults age 18 or older reporting disability by sex and age, United States. Males 18-44: 10.3%; Females 18-44: 11.7%; Males 45-64: 21.8%; Females 45-64: 25.9%; Males 65+: 45.3%; Females 65+: 56.5%.

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