Obesity epidemic means more are disabled

January 9, 2004 in Nutrition Topics in the News

Obesity epidemic means more are disabled

The U.S. obesity epidemic may be causing another, quieter epidemic of disability, including back trouble and diabetes, health experts report. Younger Americans are becoming disabled more often, many with back pain, according to the study, published in the journal Health Affairs.

Although no causal connection could be made between disability and obesity, the researchers note that obesity is the only trend that is commensurate in size with the trend toward disability. More than 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Obese people are more likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes, several forms of cancer and less deadly disability such as backache.

The scientists analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey, an annual nationwide government survey of about 36,000 households. They looked for disability trends among people ages 18 to 69 between 1984 and 2000. This analysis pointed to substantial growth in reported disability rates among those under 50 years but not among the elderly. Among those 50 to 59 years, disability rose only among those who were obese, the study found.

The authors concluded that obesity accounts for about half the increased disability among those ages 18 to 29. Much of the time, diabetes and back pain was to blame and the researchers said the links with obesity were clear.

This trend has financial implications, the researchers noted, saying that people who are disabled generally use more medical services, adding costs to the nation's health care bill. The American government recently reported that the country's health spending bill rose to $1.6 trillion in 2002.

In addition to obesity, some of the increase in disability rates may be explained by disability insurance incentives and new medical technology that saves the lives of people who would have died even a few years ago, the researchers said.

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