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Key Findings: Prevalence and Impact of Unhealthy Weight in a National Sample of US Adolescents with Autism and Other Learning and Behavioral Disorders

The Maternal and Child Health Journal has published a new study that focuses on unhealthy weight among adolescents with developmental disabilities. Researchers from CDC and the Health Resources and Services Administration found that obesity is high among adolescents with learning and behavioral developmental disabilities and highest among children with autism compared to adolescents without these conditions. This puts these already vulnerable adolescents at risk for lifelong health conditions related to being obese. Currently, there are no specific recommendations for preventing obesity among children or adolescents with developmental disabilities. Obesity prevention and management approaches for this at-risk group need further consideration.

You can read the abstract of the article here. Read more below for a summary of findings from this article.

Main Findings from this Study

  • Adolescents with learning and behavioral developmental disabilities were about 1.5 times more likely to be obese than adolescents without developmental disabilities.
    • Adolescents with autism were about 2 times more likely to be obese than adolescents without developmental disabilities.  
    • Among adolescents with either Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or learning disorder/other developmental delay, those who were not taking prescription medications were more likely to be obese than adolescents without developmental disabilities.
  • About  5.6% of adolescents with learning and behavioral developmental disabilities were underweight, compared with 3.5% of adolescents without developmental disabilities.  This means that adolescents with learning and behavioral developmental disabilities were about 1.5 times more likely to be underweight.
    • Adolescents with intellectual disability were 4 times more likely to be underweight than adolescents without developmental disabilities. However, this likelihood decreased when taking into account whether the adolescent was born too small (less than 5.5 lbs).
  • Both obese adolescents (with or without developmental disabilities) and adolescents with developmental disabilities (with or without obesity) were more likely to have health conditions, such as asthma, eczema, and migraine headaches in comparison to non-obese adolescents without developmental disabilities.
    • Adolescents with both obesity and developmental disabilities had the highest number of these same health conditions.

Percentage of Adolescents Who are Obese

Without Developmental Disabilities

13.1%

With any Learning Behavioral Developmental Disability

20.4%

With Autism

31.8%

With Intellectual Disability

19.8%

With ADHD

17.6%

With Learning Disorder/Other Developmental Delay

20.3%

About this Study

This study looked at parent-reported information collected as part of the National Health Interview Survey. Specifically, researchers analyzed data on over 9,600 adolescents who were 12 -17 years old in 2008-2010. Parents of over 1,400 of these adolescents identified their adolescents as having autism, ADHD, intellectual disability, and/or learning disability or other developmental delay.

Reference for Key Findings Feature

Phillips KL, Schieve LA, Visser S, Boulet S, Sharma AJ, Kogan M, Boyle CA, Yeargin-Allsopp M. Prevalence and impact of unhealthy weight in a national sample of US adolescents with autism and other learning and behavioral disabilities. Maternal and Child Health Journal. February 2014.[Epub ahead of print].

More Information

To learn more about developmental disabilities, please visit the developmental disabilities website.

To learn more about living healthy with a disability, please visit the disability and health website

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