Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Adult Special Olympics Athletes: Health Risks Related to Food Choices

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Adult Special Olympics Athletes: Health Risks Related to Food Choices

Article excerpt

This study assessed prevalence of overweight/obesity and risk of diet-related disease among 58 Special Olympics athletes (SOAs), 18-62 years old. Dietary intake was assessed, with comparisons between SOAs who made daily food choices (51%) (Self), versus SOAs who relied solely on care providers (Other). Overweight/obesity prevalence was 77%; the majority (75%) was at increased disease risk. Mean daily frequency of consuming water, regular soda, and sweetened drinks differed by group despite similar anthropometric measures (mean daily consumption of water was 2.2 times for Self, 3.3 for Other; 1.5 and 0.8 for regular soda; 1.4 and 0.7 for sweetened drinks). Nutrition intervention to reduce overweight/obesity should be directed toward the SOAs and care providers.

Overweight/obesity is a most visible yet neglected public health problem (World Health Organization, 2003). An obese condition, resulting from lack of energy balance (healthful eating behaviors and regular physical activity), is associated with numerous health consequences. For example, obese individuals have increased risk for type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, because excess abdominal fat is an independent risk factor for these diseases (National Institutes of Health, 2000). Because obesity increases the prevalence of (and complications associated with) these diseases, it presents a substantial threat to one's well-being. Obesity among individuals with intellectual disabilities reduces community participation, independent living, and years of healthy living (Rimmer & Yamaki, 2006). There are more than 300 million obese adults worldwide, and it has been reported that obesity prevalence among individuals with intellectual disabilities is similar to or greater than that of their non-intellectually disabled counterparts (Emerson, 2005; Yamaki, 2005). It is predicted that by 2020, heart disease will be the leading cause of death and a secondary disability (coronary heart disease, stroke) throughout the world (World Health Organization, 2003).

The typical Special Olympics athlete is an individual 8 years of age or older who has an intellectual disability. The intellectual disability includes intellectual functioning that is two years or more behind that of their peers. These individuals present significant limitations in two or more of 10 adaptive skill areas and the condition manifests itself before 18 years of age (Special Olympics, 2007a). For this article, the term individuals with intellectual disabilities is in reference to adults who meet the inclusion criteria for an SOA.

Special Olympics initiated the Healthy Athletes program in 1996. The intent of the program is to improve athletes' ability to train and compete and enable them to make healthy lifestyle choices that improve long-term health (Special Olympics, 2007b). A component of Special Olympics events, the Healthy Athletes program, includes health assessment and education about healthy lifestyles in an effort to reduce secondary conditions that relate to weight status. A health screening from the 2003 Special Olympics Summer World Games indicated that numerous health disparities, many that relate directly to dietary intake and nutrition status, exist among individuals with intellectual disabilities. For example, 53 % of athletes were overweight or obese, 35% had obvious signs of tooth decay, and 29% of males and 13% of females had below normal bone mineral density (Special Olympics, 2005).

Food choices are made based on many factors (Brown & Landry-Meyer, 2007; Malinauskas, Overton, Cucchiara, Carpenter, & Corbett, 2007). From an ecological perspective, care providers are influential factors in the food choices made by adults with intellectual disabilities. Rimmer, Braddock, and Fujiura (1993) reported that among 364 adults with intellectual disabilities who reside in institutions, community-based facilities, or family households, the prevalence of obesity was lowest in institutions and greatest in family households (prevalence among females was 30% in institutions, 47% in community-based facilities, and 64% in family households; among males, 12% in institutions, 29% in community-based facilities, and 57% in family households). …

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