Rise in U.S. Obesity Rates Main Cause of Increased Disability Rates, Study Finds
Disability rates among U.S. residents in their 30s and 40s increased "dramatically" in the last 20 years, in large part because of increased obesity rates, according to a study published in the January/February issue of Health Affairs, USA Today reports (Hellmich, USA Today, 1/9). In the study, Darius Lakdawalla, an economist at RAND, and colleagues analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey, which collects information from about 36,000 U.S. households each year (McDonough, AP/Dallas Morning News, 1/8). Survey respondents were considered disabled in cases in which they could not take care of their personal needs or had limited ability to perform routine tasks (USA Today, 1/9). According to the study, between 1984 and 1996, the rate of respondents ages 30 to 39 considered disabled increased by 80%, and the rate among respondents ages 40 to 49 increased by 31% (Winslow, Wall Street Journal, 1/9). The study also found that the rate of respondents ages 18 to 29 and those ages 50 to 59 increased between 1984 and 1996; the rate among respondents ages 60 to 69 decreased by more than 10%, according to the study. The main causes of disability among respondents younger than age 60 were musculoskeletal problems, such as back injuries, and mental illnesses, the study found (Richardson, Los Angeles Times, 1/9). Both problems disproportionately affect obese individuals. According to researchers, the results of the study predict "potentially challenging issues for both employers and policy makers already struggling with skyrocketing health care costs," the Journal reports. Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, said that the results of the study highlight increased concerns among employers about the effect that overweight employees have on health care costs and productivity. In addition, she said that health insurers also may face problems because they rely on healthy employees to limit premium rate increases (Wall Street Journal, 1/9).
In related news, a National Council on Disability report scheduled for release Friday warns that a lack of government information on U.S. residents with disabilities has "deprived local officials, schools and businesses of financing they need" to provide them with adequate services, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. According to the council, accurate information is required because census data are used to allocate federal funds to states, improve civil rights enforcement and predict the number of individuals eligible for Social Security benefits. The report found that the 2000 census failed to account for children younger than age six with disabilities and that the Census Bureau reached two different estimates on the number of U.S. residents with disabilities. The report calls for "drastic changes in the way" that the Census Bureau collects data to ensure adequate funds for disability services, according to the AP/Inquirer (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.