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.
A CDC study shows that 47.5 million US adults (21.8%) reported a disability  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:  Brault, M. Americans with disabilities: 2005, current population reports, P70-117, Washington, DC: US Census Bureau; 2008.
*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.
- CDC Arthritis Program
- CDC Disability and Health
- Americans with Disabilities: 2005 [PDF - 638KB]
- Listen to "Staying Ahead of Father Time" as a Cup of Health [PODCAST - 3:45 minutes] or a Minute of Health [PODCAST - 0:59 seconds]
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