What is Obesity?
Obesity is defined as excess body fat, or BMI above 30, resulting in health impairment (1). It is a simple definition, but obesity is a complex, multifactorial condition that can pose a real threat to health and quality of life.
According to the World Health Organization, the rate of obesity worldwide has tripled since 1975, and in 2016, there were over 650 million adults that were obese (1).
The obesity epidemic is concerning because it is a major risk factor for many diseases. These include diabetes, musculoskeletal pathologies, heart disease, stroke, and even some cancers (2). Children with obesity are also at higher risk of premature death and disability once they are adults (1).
Obesity can also be detrimental to mental health. Indeed, obese individuals are at higher risk of having issues related to their self-esteem, body image, and mood. As a result, their quality of life is also usually poorer (3).
The Relationship between Obesity and Disability
Maintaining a healthy weight can sometimes be difficult for disabled people. Indeed, many studies have shown that disabled people are more likely to suffer from obesity than those without disabilities (4).
We know that a relationship exists between obesity and disability. Disability can limit a person’s physical ability to exercise, an essential component of obesity prevention (4). Indeed, disabled people can sometimes experience lower energy levels or chronic pain, both of which can discourage someone from exercising. Moreover, there is a lack of accessibility to gym or training facilities, making it difficult for someone to work out. This is especially true for those living in rural or remote areas.
The explanations above describe how disability can cause obesity. But what about obesity in and of itself? Is it a disability? Well, in the UK, it can be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (5). Under this act, a disability is defined as any physical or mental impairment that prevents participation in day-to-day activities. Therefore, it is easy to see how obesity can fit this description. Studies also show that obesity causes mobility disability, a type of disability preventing movement (6).
As you can tell, the relationship between obesity and disability is a complex one. We cannot address all the angles of the issue in a single article. For our discussion, the focus revolves around obesity prevention for disabled people.
The Challenges Experienced by Disabled People
As mentioned above, it can be more difficult for disabled people to control their weight. They face obstacles unique to their conditions that can make it hard to exercise regularly and eat healthily.
Social factors contribute to the obesity problem in the disabled community. In the UK, three out of ten disabled people live in poverty (7). The lack of financial resources can make it difficult to buy healthy food and subscribe to workout programmes.
Disabled people do not always have access to healthy food choices. There is the question of food insecurity due to poverty, but they also may not have physical access to healthy food (8). For example, there may not be accessible public transit in their city, or they may not have a support person who can help with the shopping. It could also be difficult to cook if they cannot afford an adapted home.
Also, disabled people sometimes take medications with weight gain and changes in appetite as side effects (8). If the person cannot discontinue the medication for health reasons, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy weight.
Finally, the practice of physical activity can be difficult depending on the person’s physical limitations. Combined with a lack of accessible environment, it can make it challenging for disabled people to work out.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Obesity?
Despite the challenges, disabled people can control their weight and live a healthy lifestyle.
One of the first areas of intervention to prevent obesity is physical activity. Disabled people are more likely to engage in sedentary behaviours (9). For example, they watch more television and play more video games than the general population. This is especially true for children and adolescents (9). They are also less likely to engage in recreational activities and participate in sports.
Therefore, disabled people need to find ways to be more active. Adults should aim for 150 minutes of physical activity per week (10), but this amount should be increased to at least 225 minutes for obese individuals trying to lose weight (11). There are ways to be active in the home. For example, the National Centre on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) has a YouTube channel with several workout videos. They can all be done from home and include multiple variations for each exercise to adapt to the person’s physical abilities.
The Fit 5 Resources from the Special Olympics is another useful tool. They encourage the disabled community to be active at least five days per week, eat fruits and vegetables, and drink five bottles of water every day. They offer fitness cards and videos to help people work out from the comfort of their homes.
If motivation is a struggle, it can be difficult to work out from home. If this is your case, you might consider joining a gym or hiring a personal trainer who has the necessary experience to work with you. This is where we come in! At TG Fitness, we believe that every disabled person should be able to enjoy a good workout. We work with each of our clients to provide a fitness routine adapted to their needs and specific circumstances. We even offer video call sessions, so you do not have to live near our facility to enjoy our services. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you are curious about what we can do for you!
As mentioned earlier, lack of financial resources is one of the obstacles to healthy eating that disabled people face. Luckily, there are ways to eat nutritious food on a budget. For example, eating more vegetarian meals can help lower your grocery bill. Beans and tofu are excellent sources of proteins and certainly cheaper than beef or chicken. There are tons of delicious ideas online if you need inspiration for recipes.
You can also buy the store-brand instead of the name-brand. Some store-brand products have the same ingredients and taste as the name-brand but at a fraction of the price. Moreover, although they sometimes have a bad rep, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are great alternatives if you are trying to save some money. They are perfectly healthy as long as you pick products with no added sugar or salt (12).
If you cannot shop for food yourself, ask a support person. Plan your meals and make a grocery list so they know what you need. You can check out the specials at your nearby grocery store and plan your meals around them to save some money. If cooking is difficult, ask a friend or a family member to help you once a week and freeze some meals for easy access later. Casseroles, soups, sauces, and smoothies are all examples of meals you can freeze without loss of taste or texture.
If you eat out only once in a while, there is nothing wrong with ordering whatever you want. However, if most of your meals are take-out, try to make more health-conscious choices. For example, make sure each meal has a portion of vegetables, like a salad or vegetable soup. Limit the amount of fried foods and ask for sauce on the side so you can control how much is on your food.
The Take-Home Message
Obesity is an important issue that can affect your mental and physical health as well as your quality of life. For many reasons, disabled people are more likely to suffer from obesity. Factors related to their disability such as physical limitations, medication side effects, chronic pain, and fatigue can make it challenging to achieve a healthy weight. Lack of financial resources can also be an obstacle and limit access to healthy food and exercise facilities.
Despite those challenges, disabled people can keep obesity at bay by practising regular physical activity and eating a balanced diet. A support person can help plan, shop for, and cook healthy meals. Finally, there are free resources online to help individuals practice physical activity adapted to their needs and limitations.
At TG Fitness, we help clients redefine their limits with our inclusive personal training services, specialising in working with disabled people and those with chronic illnesses. We believe that everyone deserves access to fitness and wellness services that cater to their unique needs, which is why our network of skilled and experienced trainers will work closely with you to create a bespoke fitness plan that fits your body and lifestyle. Join our inclusive community today and start your fitness journey towards improved mobility, reduced pain, and a healthier, more energised life. Contact us now to schedule your first consultation and experience the benefits of personalised, accessible training.