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.

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.
  • 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.


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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