NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Obesity Leading to Increased Disability Among the Young

January 30, 2004

The U.S. obesity epidemic may be causing another, quieter epidemic of disability, including back trouble and diabetes, health experts report.

Researchers analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey, a nationwide government survey of about 36,000. They looked for disability trend among people ages 18 to 69 between 1984 and 2000. They found substantial growth in reported disability rates among those under 50 years, but not among the elderly:

  • From 1984 to 1996 disability expanded significantly for people ages 18-59; the sharpest increases were for those in the population ages 30-39.
  • Among those 50 to 59 years, disability rose only among those who were obese.
  • The population ages 60-69 actually became less disabled.
  • Obesity accounts for about half of the increased disability among those ages 18-29; about one-quarter for those ages 30-39; and about one-tenth for those ages 40-49.

If at least part of the increases in disability is attributable to deterioration in health among the young, the effects are likely to be felt in the U.S. health care system, say the authors. The recent growth in disability among the young could lead to a future nursing home population that is 10-25 percent larger than it might otherwise be.

Source: Darius Lakdawalla, Jayanta Bhattacharya, and Dana Goldman, "Are the Young Becoming More Disabled," Health Affairs, January/February 2004.

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