Nutrition for Persons with Physical, Mental and/or Developmental Disabilities

Recently, there is a worldwide shift from an unhealthy diet to a healthier lifestyle. The level of nutrition for people has greatly improved with the numerous campaigns on eating greens & fruits, exercise, and growing/ gardening organic foods. While this may be true for many societies, persons with disabilities were left behind. People with disabilities are at increased risk of developing secondary conditions such as obesity, and diabetes.

Research shows that a healthy diet would improve the quality and length of most individuals’ lives. Poor diet is related to obesity and illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension.

Individuals with primary disabilities often experience “secondary conditions” – additional physical and psychological problems that limit a person’s enjoyment of life and participation in activities. Health research conducted with adults who have I/DD shows that diet affects many of their most frequently reported secondary conditions, such as fatigue, weight problems, and constipation or diarrhea. Proper nutrition can increase these individuals’ quality of life by improving existing secondary conditions and preventing additional conditions from developing.
Personal assistants and others responsible for nutrition or planning and preparing meals for adults with I/DD should read the Standards of Care and understand how to implement them. Training in safe food handling practices and basic nutrition is necessary.

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Individuals with disabilities are at increased risk of suffering secondary conditions that will limit their enjoyment and societal participation. Currently, as of 2000, the United States had 49.7 million persons with disabilities or some other life-limiting condition. Therefore, the health and nutrition of disabled persons can no longer be ignored, as they are also important members of the society.

This section of Healthy People 2020 focuses on promoting the health and well-being of people with disabilities. The U.S. Census 2000 counted 49.7 million people with some long-lasting condition or disability. An individual can get a disabling impairment or chronic condition at any point in life. Disability is part of human life, and impairment or condition does not define individuals, their health, or their talents and abilities.

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Disability is not synonymous with ill health; it is a natural part of human life, as such, it does not define any person. Research into the nutrition of persons with disabilities seeks to highlight areas of improvements and appreciate areas of excellence in catering for the disabled.

  • Be included in public health activities.
  • Receive well-timed interventions and services.
  • Interact with their environment without barriers.
  • Participate in everyday life activities.

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  • Provide health-promoting food and nutrition supports.
  • Provide information, knowledgeable encouragement, and positive social/instrumental support (assist in grocery shopping, cooking, etc.) to help individuals make good food choices.
  • Support participation in activities that encourage healthy eating and physical activity.

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It is important to cater to the nutritional needs of disables persons as they are part of the society, and encouraging their healthy eating and physical activity there will e an improvement in their quality and longevity of life. There are three levels of standards to ensure that the disabled get the best nutrition;

There are three levels of standards necessary to achieve quality food and nutrition supports. Your role is to help implement the standards at each level:

  • Level 1 – Has a diet that is safe and nutritionally adequate.
  • Level 2 – Has a diet that addresses his or her individual needs.
  • Level 3 – Is encouraged to eat recommended portions of healthy foods associated with lower risk for common chronic diseases and conditions.

Level 1 – Diet is safe and adequate:

  • Food is of sufficient quality and amount.
  • A variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Food is safely stored and prepared.
  • Menus of 3 meals and snacks per day.
  • Regular physical activity.
  • Respects individual food preferences.

Level 2 – Diet meets individual needs:

  • The six components of Level One, plus:
  • Manages medical conditions.
  • Manages secondary conditions.
  • Meets other special needs.

Level 3 – Diet promotes health:

  • The six components of Level One, plus:
  • The three components of Level Two, plus:
  • Abundant whole plant foods.
  • Low cholesterol, saturated and Trans fats.
  • Limited simple sugars and salt.
  • More plant proteins (beans, nuts, grains) and
    fewer and leaner animal proteins (meat)
  • Multiple vitamin/mineral supplements.
  • Little or no alcohol.

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How to Improve Your Emotional/ Mental Well-being

Well-being is a broad section comprised broadly of; emotional/ mental, and physical well-being. Depression and anxiety are becoming more common each day, which makes emotional well-being one of the most sort out remedies. In order to understand the concept of emotional well-being; you must begin by understanding the broad concept of well-being.

Wellbeing is not just the absence of disease or illness. It is a complex combination of a person’s physical, mental, emotional and social health factors. Wellbeing is strongly linked to happiness and life satisfaction. In short, well-being could be described as how you feel about yourself and your life.

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Therefore, if well-being is how you feel about yourself and your life; then emotional wellness in a more simplistic form defines the feelings elucidated from how you view yourself and your life.

Sarah Stewart-Brown, the professor of public health at the University of Warwick and a wellbeing expert, says that when we talk about mental wellbeing, we mean more than just happiness.

“It’s useful to start with the idea that overall wellbeing involves both the mind and the body. And we know that physical and mental wellbeing are closely related,” she says.

“Of course, feeling happy is a part of mental wellbeing. However, it is far from the whole. There is a deeper kind of wellbeing, which is about living in a way that is good for you and good for others around you.

“Feelings of contentment, enjoyment, confidence and engagement with the world are all a part of mental wellbeing. Self-esteem and self-confidence are, too. So is a feeling that you can do the things you want to do. In addition, so are good relationships, which bring joy to you and those around you.

“Of course, good mental wellbeing does not mean that you never experience feelings or situations that you find difficult. But it does mean that you feel you have the resilience to cope when times are tougher than usual.”

Mental wellbeing can take many different forms, but a useful description is feeling good and functioning well.

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Conclusively, mental/ emotional well-being is comprised of feelings such as; contentment, enjoyment, confidence, engagement with the world, and self-esteem. Scientific research has led to the introduction of methods to be happier in your life.


If you approach them with an open mind and try them out, you can judge the results yourself.

  • Connect – connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. Spend time developing these relationships.
  • Be active – you do not have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Find the activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your life.
  • Keep learning – learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that cooking course, start learning to play a musical instrument, or figure out how to fix your bike?
  • Give to others – even the smallest act can count whether it is a smile, a thank you or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks.
  • Be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your feelings and thoughts, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”, and it can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.

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Disabled People Deserve to Experience Wellness Too

The society creates a foundation for most beliefs, choices, and cultures. It allows individuals to become part of a bigger platform made up of relatives, friends, foes, and even competitors. This aspect of society is beneficial; however, the same community forms its perceptions based on the opinions of the most prominent persons. These beliefs may be wrong and unjust; so the nation ends up with a generation of fools. One of these misconceptions is the value, role, and health of disabled persons.

Over 650 million people across the globe have a disability, which represents 10 percent of the world’s population (United Nations, 2008; World Health Organization [WHO], 2007). Disability is more prevalent in developing countries than developed countries, increasing the pressure and strain on these countries’ social structures and health services. The number of people with disabilities is growing rapidly.

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It is estimated that there are about 650 million persons living with disabilities in the world. In the U.S alone, there are 21 million disabled adults; therefore, disability can no longer be ignored whether within the U.S or in other parts of the world.

More than 21 million US adults 18 – 64 years of age have a disability. These are adults with serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs; hearing; seeing; or concentrating, remembering, or making decisions. Adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than adults without disabilities. Aerobic physical activity can help reduce the impact of these chronic diseases, yet nearly half of all adults with disabilities get no leisure-time aerobic physical activity.

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Unfortunately, due to societal and personal beliefs the 21 million disabled persons are at a high risk of developing secondary conditions as nearly half of them have no aerobic physical activity. Luckily, traditional beliefs notwithstanding, people are embracing new models of health that encourage good healthy behaviors even in disability.

Depending on personal beliefs, values, and current experience, people often emphasize one aspect over another in their own definitions of health. Traditional definitions describe health and disability at opposite ends of a single health continuum. Such definitions lead far too many people to view health and disability as mutually exclusive of each other, an either/or proposition. This view must be examined as it has damaging and lasting effects on people who live with disability and chronic conditions.

The ability to practice healthy behaviors, even in the presence of disability, has led to newer models of health. These newer definitions view health as multidimensional and see optimal health as defined within a given person’s unique circumstances. Health is viewed as the maximizing of one’s potential along various dimensions. Health includes a dynamic balance of physical, social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual factors. When this definition is used, disability poses no obstacle to maximizing health and one’s potential. When health is viewed not as the absence of disability or chronic conditions, but as the ability to function effectively in given environments, to fulfill needs and to adapt to major stresses, then, by definition, most people with disabilities is healthy

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Fortunately, newer definitions view health as multidimensional and see optimal health as defined within a given individual’s unique circumstances. Disability is not synonymous to unhealthy or inability no matter the situation. The following are the difficulties that people with disability face in accepting, enjoying, and taking care of themselves;

  • Increased risks associated with sedentary lifestyle (weight gain,
    obesity, bone loss, diabetes, cardiovascular disease)
  • Lack of access to fitness facilities
  • Lack of awareness of the importance of physical activity
  • The belief that participation in exercise and fitness is not
  • possible because of disability

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  • Difficulties or delays in getting the health care they need.
  • No annual dental visit.
  • No mammogram in past two years.
  • No Pap test within the past three years.
  • Hardly any fitness activities.
  • Use tobacco.
  • Be overweight or obese.
  • Have high blood pressure.
  • Experience symptoms of psychological distress.
  • Receive less social-emotional support.
  • Have lower employment rates.

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  • Discrimination and insensitivity towards one’s culture was identified as a significant barrier that was perceived as impacting health and wellness.



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Disabled persons will face many challenges in their journey to optimum wellness, self- care and happiness. The discrimination and insensitivity that society and culture imparts is one of the most significant barriers. Luckily, this is your life, so do whatever matters to you, makes you happy, and increases your quality of health. The following are some strategies that may help in that resolve;

  • Physical activity guidelines apply to all people although those with disabilities may need to work with their health care providers to understand the types and amounts of physical activity appropriate for them.
  • Determine adaptations needed to ensure safe participation in activities and use of exercise equipment.
  • Consider risk for secondary conditions related to specific disabling disorders; monitor for development of secondary conditions.
  • If fitness centers, formal exercise programs, or formal physical activity programs for people with disabilities do not exist or are not available, alternative approaches can be used successfully

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