Double S Instructional Systems

Promoting Healthy Lifestyle Choices for People with Developmental Disabilities

Obesity | Double S Instructional Systems

Obesity and Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (ID)

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Obesity has been recognized as a major health problem for adults with ID. The incidence of obesity among this population is higher than among the general population. The prevalence of obesity in people with has increased over the last 20 years and also is significantly higher than the general population.

Living Arrangements, Health, Genetics
and Individuals with ID

Living arrangements play a significant role in the rates of obesity in people with ID. Individuals living in institutions had the lowest rate of obesity while those living at home had the highest rate. In moving from institutional to community settings, individuals with ID have benefited from a less restrictive environment and increased self-determination. This change tends to result, however, in less external control over diet and activity levels for these individuals.

Other environmental factors associated with community-based care (e.g., greater opportunity to lead a sedentary lifestyle and an abundance of unhealthy food choices) may also play a major role in the development of obesity in individuals with ID. Many individuals with ID have a high prevalence of hyperinsulinemia, low HDL cholesterol, and abdominal obesity. Insulin resistance syndrome and type II diabetes may be a major concern for adults with ID who live at home.

There are certain genetic syndromes that are associated with ID and obesity: Prader-Willi, Bardet-Beidl, Cohen, Carpenter, Borjesen, and Down Syndromes. However this group comprises a very small percentage of people with ID. The major cause of obesity in individuals with ID is similar to that found in the general population – excessive caloric intake combined with minimal physical activity.


Overall high levels of overweight and obesity coupled with low fitness levels, inactive lifestyles, and poor nutrition in adults with ID are cause for serious concern. Not only are these individuals at risk medically, but there is also concern about the negative effect of poor physical health on their level of social integration. Overweight individuals with ID need access to effective, understandable, and easy-to-implement weight loss programs. We are currently developing a meal planning and exercise program to meet this need.

References available from Martin R.Sheehan, Ph.D. on request

The next topic area is Nutrition