|Study ties obesity to increases in disabilities
By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY
The number of disabled Americans in their 30s and 40s increased dramatically over the past 20 years, a study out Thursday says, and the 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, experts say.
This research adds to the growing list of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, linked to being overweight. About 65% of American adults are either obese or overweight, up from 47% in 1980.
For the latest study, Rand Corp. 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.
"We know the obese are more likely to be disabled, which may be related to diabetes and back problems," says Dana Goldman, director of health economics for Rand Corp. and one of the authors of the study, which was published in the January issue of Health Affairs.
Goldman and the other authors predict that the recent growth in disabilities among these younger age groups could lead to a future nursing home population that is 10% to 25% larger and Medicare expenditures that are 10% to 15% higher than they would have been if disabilities had not increased.
"The burden will be on taxpayers as the prevalence of disability increases," says Eric Finkelstein, a health economist with RTI International, a non-profit think tank in Raleigh, N.C., "because ultimately (treatment and support of the disabled) are financed through public-sector plans."