Legislation on Physical Activity Related to Health Implications for Persons with Disabilities

By Auxter, David A.; Arnhold, Robert W. | Palaestra, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview
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Legislation on Physical Activity Related to Health Implications for Persons with Disabilities


Auxter, David A., Arnhold, Robert W., Palaestra


There are many pieces of legislation that can have implications for persons with disabilities related to physical activity and health promotion. It has been established that regular, moderate physical activity can assist in amelioration and prevention of secondary disabling conditions (Surgeon General's Call to Action, 2006). Through physical activity one derives health benefits for prevention of chronic health conditions (Healthy People 2000, 2010).

There are over 50 million persons with disabilities in the United States and 6.4 million children enrolled in special education services who can benefit from regular physical activity. With this number of constituents in need of physical activity services and supports, there have been legislative initiatives to encourage people to participate in regular physical activity (Surgeon General's Report, 1996, Surgeon General's Call to Action, 2006, and Healthy People 2000, 2010).

Active advocacy for legislative activity involves developing a unified message for Congress that educates House and Senate members to the benefits of physical activity for persons with disabilities and asking for Congressional oversight of this critical issue.

Developing the Message to Legislators

The message we must convey to legislators at both the federal and state levels consists of education and civil rights issues for persons with disabilities with respect to access to regular physical activity. Following 12 years of schooling and enrollment in physical education classes, children enrolled in special education should exit school in good health. However, the health of children with disabilities is poor, and it gets worse at school exit. This is exhibited by increases in overweight and obesity among these children. Obesity is a barrier to good health and is a special problem for children with disabilities. Legislators must understand the barriers to access physical activity and recreation pursuits by children who have disabilities, the secondary condition of obesity, and the hardships it places on families and the community. Obesity can be caused by a lack of access to good, healthy food choices, safe areas to play, and recreation facilities led by highly qualified personnel who understand the unique physical activity needs of children with disabilities.

Persons of all ages who are overweight suffer from greater risks to chronic health conditions. The lack of adequate nutrition and regular physical activity are the consequences of chronic health conditions. Chronic health conditions are associated with 70% of acute health care expenditures heart disease, arthritis, and low back pain. Other chronic conditions such as diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure, and amputations.

There is a need for evidence-based research and practice to demonstrate effective professional preparation and training for workers who produce similar observable outcomes to facilitate participation in physical activity for children with disabilities. Such documentation will provide legislators with the message needed to initiate legislation supportive to this cause.

Specific Issues

Leisure physical activity. Health benefits from physical activity result from lifelong leisure participation, and leisure is effectively chosen by individuals who self-select their choice of active lifestyle. Persons most in need of physical activity are our most vulnerable populations. There is a decline of physical activity needing to be reversed that begins in puberty and extends into adulthood. This is even more pronounced among individuals with disabilities.

Barriers to participation. Children and adults in disadvantaged communities face greater barriers to participation in physical activity than those in advantaged communities. There are socio-economic disparities to participation in physical activity. Persons from low income families participate less in physical activity; thus, a special need to address obesity and the barriers to physical activities exists in low income communities.

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