Women with Disabilities: Key Concerns Include Nutrition, Healthy Eating, and Weight Management

Sep 29, 2014
Tagged with: Women with Disabilities: Key Concerns Include Nutrition, Healthy Eating, and Weight Management

What are the Primary Health Concerns of Women with Disabilities?

A study and related article called “Health promotion interests of women with disabilities“, by Suzanne Smeltzer and Vanessa Zimmerman identifies some of the top ranking health concerns for women with disabilities. Key concerns include: Disability and Aging, Stress Management, Exercise, Nutrition, Healthy Eating and Weight Management, Health Promotion, and maintaining mental health. [i]   62 percent of the survey participants identified Nutrition and Healthy Eating as a concern. [ii] This piece will focus on Healthy Eating, my personal experience and encounters with professionals over Healthy Eating and Weight Management, as well as highlight some statistics, and available resources which can support Healthy Eating and Weight Management for women with disabilities.

What is Healthy Eating?

As I started to pull together information for this article, I realized how little I really knew about Nutrition, Healthy Eating, Weight Management, and Exercise prior to creating my customized walking program. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Part of engaging in a healthy lifestyle involves choosing and implementing a healthy eating plan.” According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010,  healthy eating emphasizes “consuming appropriate portions and amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts, while ensuring food intake is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.” (For more information, see: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp)

I’ve thought extensively about past communications I’ve had with Doctors, Nurses, and other Health Professionals. Discussions and guidance about Nutrition, Healthy Eating, and Weight Management did not come up. I do not recall being asked about my eating habits. I do not remember receiving counseling or information about recommended nutritional guidelines, portion control, weight management, exercise, or physical activity.

The Battle With the Weight Scale: A Personal Encounter

The one encounter I do recall on the topic of Weight Management was during an uncomfortable health visit. The clinic environment felt rushed. Staff was clearly trying to make up time for patient visits that went over the allotted time. The Health professional I was dealing with was harried and impatiently prompted me to get on the weight scale.

I was not successful in communicating that I could not stand still on the narrow scale stand without my walking devices. I could not maintain my balance. As a result, my weight measurement was not accurate.

The Health professional trying to weigh me was clearly frustrated by the amount of time we were spending trying to get a correct measurement of my weight. They told me to “stand still” and after the third attempt announced the approximate number, with the observation that “I could afford to lose ten pounds.”

I was then left to wait for the next Health professional. No discussion took place about why “I could afford to lose ten pounds”. I remember feeling my jaw drop and feeling stunned. I was assertive enough to raise question about “Why I should attempt to lose 10 pounds?” following the encounter and again at a couple of future appointments and was told by one professional to “Just stop eating.” I was advised to “Just get up from the chair and leave the table.”

Another professional more helpfully suggested that I should see a Nutritionist since changing certain eating habits would support my mobility goals and overall efforts to walk without devices full-time.

Troubling Realities

I came across an article which mirrored my initial encounter with professionals concerning Healthy Eating and Weight Management. The article was called “Managing weight. (just for women)”, from Paraplegia News, Paralyzed Veterans of America. The piece highlights experiences of women with physical disabilities, specifically related to Weight Management. The following “Fact Points” caught my attention:

  • Medical schools rarely teach weight management or health promotion for women with physical or other disabilities. [iii]
  • Doctors’ offices rarely have platform scales (almost all veterinarians do!) and are unable to monitor the weight of people who cannot stand, [iv] and
  • Standard clinical guidelines for weight management do not address the situation of women who are limited in their ability to be physically active. [v]

Engaging in Healthy Eating and Weight Management

After my fairly bumpy encounters concerning Healthy Eating and Weight Management; I engaged experts with established knowledge in Nutrition and Healthy Eating to get my habits on track. I completed a food inventory and was also given the task to keep a food diary over a minimum of a two week period to track what foods I was eating.

The diary included space to document the types of food I was eating, beverages I was drinking, the portion size and/or amount, the times of day I consumed the food, estimated calories, and other notes. An example of an online food diary and resource tool is (http://www.myfitnesspal.com).

As a result of the diary, I learned to eat better. For example, I reduced my sugar consumption, increased my consumption of vegetables, and increased the amount of water I drink.

Important Statistics and Trends

Studies have shown that obesity and excess body weight are linked to health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. [vi] Multiple studies have shown that obesity rates for both children and adult with disabilities are higher compared to people without disabilities. Prevalence is the percentage of a population that is affected with a particular disease and/or condition at a given time. Obesity prevalence rates vary from 27 percent to 58 percent, according to existing research. [vii]

Current research shows that obesity prevalence is highest for people between the ages of 40 to 59; “with the prevalence of morbid obesity among women equaling 10.9 percent compared to 4.5 percent among men.” [viii] Criteria for morbid obesity includes being more than 100 pounds over “ideal body weight”, and having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 40 and/or having a BMI of over 35 with health effects such as high blood pressure or diabetes. (For information about how to assess your weight and health risk and for information on how to calculate your Body Mass Index, see:

(http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/risk.htm) and

(http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmi_tbl.htm).

Finally, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, obesity increases with age in African-American women, and increases through age 59 in Caucasian women.

Concluding Thoughts and Resources:

Women with disabilities have been classified as “one of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups since they are at greater risk for health problems compared to men with disabilities and men and women without disabilities.” [ix]

Through this personal account, I have attempted to highlight some key concerns of women with disabilities related to their health, the growing prevalence of obesity among women; particularly as they age, and a lack of information and other factors that impede women with disabilities from engaging in Healthy Eating, Weight Management, and living a more Healthy Lifestyle in general.

Medical, Health, and Fitness Professionals can proactively support women with disabilities to learn about Nutrition, Healthy Eating, Weight management, and related topics. They can also offer recommendations for engaging in a Healthy Lifestyle.

Resources:

Suggested Resources include:

(https://www.womenshealth.gov/fitness-nutrition/nutrition-basics/index.html)

http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/

http://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-tips.html

http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/index.html

http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/tools/

Tell me NCHPAD Readers, what types of information on Healthy Eating and Weight Management interest you? How can Medical Professionals and other Health and Fitness Professionals assist you to engage in a Healthy Lifestyle? Leave comments and tell us your story on the NCHPAD Endless Capabilities blog (http://blog.ncpad.org/).

[i] Smeltzer, Suzanne C.; Vanessa Zimmerman. “Health promotion interests of women with disabilities.” Journal of Neuroscience Nursing. American Association of Neuroscience Nurses. 2005

[ii] Smeltzer, Suzanne C.; Vanessa Zimmerman. “Health promotion interests of women with disabilities.” Journal of Neuroscience Nursing. American Association of Neuroscience Nurses. 2005

[iii] “Managing weight. (just for women).” Paraplegia News. Paralyzed Veterans of America. 2008.

[iv] “Managing weight. (just for women).” Paraplegia News. Paralyzed Veterans of America. 2008.

[v] “Managing weight. (just for women).” Paraplegia News. Paralyzed Veterans of America. 2008.

[vi] Jackson, A., Morrow, J., Hill, D., & Dishman, R. (2004). Physical activity for health and fitness. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

[vii]Hsieh, K. K., Rimmer, J. H., & Heller, T. T. (n.d). Obesity and associated factors in adults with intellectual disability. Journal Of Intellectual Disability Research, 58(9), 851-863.

[viii]Hsieh, K. K., Rimmer, J. H., & Heller, T. T. (n.d). Obesity and associated factors in adults with intellectual disability. Journal Of Intellectual Disability Research, 58(9), 851-863.

[ix] Smeltzer, Suzanne C.; Vanessa Zimmerman. “Health promotion interests of women with disabilities.” Journal of Neuroscience Nursing. American Association of Neuroscience Nurses. 2005.

Author: Kerry



  • bobl07

    I like your person touch on the doctor visits. I remember many times when I was just given a temperature and blood pressure check. I guess that was considered a check up. An hour wait for a ten minute visit.

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