Nutrition and Fitness Curriculum: Designing Instructional Interventions for Children with Developmental Disabilities

By Simpson, Cynthia G.; Swicegood, Philip R. et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, July/August 2006 | Go to article overview

Nutrition and Fitness Curriculum: Designing Instructional Interventions for Children with Developmental Disabilities


Simpson, Cynthia G., Swicegood, Philip R., Gaus, Mark D., Teaching Exceptional Children


Carrie is a fifth grader with moderate Down Syndrome. Carrie works hard for her teachers in both general and special education, clearly eager to please the adults around her. Socially, she smiles a lot and seeks to fit in with classmates. Still, at 4'10" her weight exceeds 220 pounds. Carrie is exhausted by the end of the school day, and her blood pressure and cholesterol levels are significantly high. Although she is aware of her need to lose weight, she has difficulty saying no to sweets and high fat foods. Her mother tells her to watch what she eats and is sometimes overly critical of her appearance, but often sabotages the situation by serving the very foods that Carrie should avoid. Carrie also seems not to exercise great self-control in making eating and nutritional choices, for example, eating the entire bowl of chocolate pudding that she found in the refrigerator. Nutrition units have been covered in Carrie's health class in general education as well as her life skills program, but she is often unable to apply those concepts in her choice of foods or daily planning of her meals and snacks.

The prevalence of childhood obesity and the risk factors associated with the disease have placed the United States in a crisis situation. The increasing incidence of obesity in young children is a health condition that has a tendency to continue into adulthood (Hodges, 2003). Over the past decade a plethora of research has emerged on the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. Research has focused on identifying health concerns among children who are overweight or obese. In one study, "the prevalence of at-risk-for-overweight or overweight in children with certain developmental disorders was as high or higher than in children without developmental disorders" (Bandini, Curtin, Hamad, Tybor, & Must, 2005, p. 741). Despite that prevalence, limited information has been made available concerning obesity-related issues among individuals with disabilities. Research has indicated that children with intellectual disabilities and obesity should be considered a major public health concern (Lin, Yen, Li, & Wu, 2005).

Health concerns among children and adolescents struggling with obesity include being at risk for serious medical conditions, such as heart disease, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, orthopedic complications, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes (Greaser & Whyte, 2004). Children with developmental disabilities share the same risk factors as nondisabled peers, but in some instances are at a greater risk. In addition, mental health problems, such as low self-esteem, negative body image or self-concept, increased stress levels, and poor socialization ability, may surface as manifestations of the primary ailment (Lundy, 2003). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and "Healthy People 2010" report that "people with disabilities are some of the most vulnerable individuals for acquiring these health related diseases and disorders due primarily to obesity" (Arnhold & Auxter, 2004, p. 6).

Researchers have suggested that media, electronic devices, and computers have played a significant role in the rising number of children affected by this disorder, whereas others argue that family lifestyles and school district policies are to blame. Regardless of why the number of children with pediatric obesity is on the rise, specifically in relation to those children with disabilities, educators must examine their role in battling this alarming trend, as well as the need for instructing children with disabilities in establishing better health practices.

To ensure that all individuals attain good health, "Healthy People 2010" challenges individuals, communities, and professionals to take specific steps to maintaining a healthy lifestyle (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). Although those goals do not call for educators to implement specific criteria for individuals with disabilities, it brings to light the fact that individuals with disabilities represent a population affected by the disorder. …

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