NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Obesity Contributing to Disabilities

January 9, 2004

The number of disabled Americans in their 30s and 40s increased dramatically over the past 20 years, according to new study by the Rand Corp. Researchers point to obesity as a major contributing factor.

Rising disability rates among people this young are likely to mean higher health care and unemployment costs for the nation, they say.

Researchers examined data from 36,000 households from 1984 to 1996. Information from more recent years was not directly comparable. People were defined as disabled if they couldn't take care of their personal care needs, such as dressing themselves, or they had limited ability to perform other routine tasks such as shopping. The researchers found that disabilities increased:

  • Among people in their 30s from 118 people per 10,000 in 1984 to 182 per 10,000 in 1996.
  • Among those in their 40s from 212 people per 10,000 in 1984 to 278 in 1996.
  • Among those in their 50s from 400 people per 10,000 to 453.

Disability declined in people in their 60s from 792 per 10,000 in 1984 to 763 per 10,000 in 1996.

Diabetes and musculoskeletal problems such as chronic back pain were two of the most important causes of disability among the younger groups. Mental illness was another major factor.

Dana Goldman, director of health economics for Rand Corp. and one of the authors of the study, predicts that the recent growth in disabilities among these younger age groups could lead to a future nursing home population that is 10 percent to 25 percent larger and Medicare expenditures that are 10 percent to 15 percent higher than they would have been if disabilities had not increased.

Source: Nanci Hellmich, "Study ties obesity to increases in disabilities," USA Today, January 9, 2003.


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