Disability and Obesity 3. 3. 3

Author: Ladislav Mesarič, Ilona Koval Grubišić

Keywords: obesity, sports activities, healthy food, body mass index (BMI)

Obesity is one of the world’s greatest health problems. Since 1975, the number of obese people in the world has almost tripled. In 2016, there were more than 1.9 billion adults with overweight. Of these, more than 650 million were obese (WHO, 2018). Research shows that obesity among people with disabilities is significantly higher than for the rest of the population (Liou, 2005). For people with physical disabilities, obesity is twice as distracting. It is associated with potential chronic diseases and, in linkage with existing limits, prevents or aggravates active participation in sports and social activities (Liou, 2005).

Obesity is a medical condition in which an excess of body fat has accumulated to such an extent that it could have a negative effect on health (Sackett et al., 1996).

According to the WHO definitions, adults are considered as obese if their body mass index (BMI - is defined as the body mass divided by the square of the body height, and is universally expressed in units of kg/m2) exceeds 30 kg / m2. For weight gain, it is considered if the index is greater than 25 (Swinburn et al., 2005).

BMI is the most useful measure of overweight and obesity at the population level, since it is the same for both sexes and for all ages of adults. However, it should be treated with caution because it may not correspond to the same degree of obesity in different individuals.

In children, age should be taken into account when determining overweight and obesity (Lobsteinin sod, 2004). Research has shown that BMI also may not be the best method for some people with disabilities. BMI can underestimate the amount of fat in people with spinal cord injuries that have less muscle mass. Different measurement methods should be used for these individuals, or the BMI value that determines obesity should be lower (Liou et al., 2005).

The cause of obesity and overweight is most often the energy imbalance between consumed and spent calories. At the global level, there has been an increase in the intake of energy (rich foods that are high in fat and sugar); reducing physical activity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transport and increasing urbanization.

The genesis of obesity in people with physical disability is unclear. There are several risk factors as they are: type of injury, severity and duration of injury or illness and sex and age. More than 50% of youngsters with muscular dystrophy are obese. As with a healthy population, obesity is more susceptible to women than men. Physical inactivity and consequently muscular atrophy are very characteristic for people with disabilities (Liou et al., 2005).

Obesity (elevated BMI) is one of the major risk factors for diseases such as:

  • Cardiovascular diseases (especially cardiovascular disease and stroke)
  • Diabetes
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis - degenerative joint disease)
  • Some types of cancer (including endometrium, breast, ovary, prostate, liver, gall bladder, kidneys and colon).

One of the leading causes of disability is the weakening of the muscular skeletal system caused by overweight. In this case, this is a vicious circle. The sedentary lifestyle causes obesity and obesity aggravates disability. The role of physical inactivity in the development of obesity is significantly higher in persons with disabilities. There is plenty of evidence to show that obesity can aggravate the state of disability and that many disorders accompanying disability cause a risk of obesity. (Ells et al., 2006)

Illness associated with excessive weight and obesity can be avoided. The choice of healthy food and regular physical activity is essential. This can be achieved by creating an appropriate support environment and informing people.

Each individual can take care for himself by:

  • limit the intake of foods containing high saturated fat and sugar,
  • limit the intake of alcoholic beverages,
  • increases the consumption of vegetables, legumes, nuts and fruit
  • is regularly physical active (60 minutes per day for children and 150 minutes for adults).

Sports activities can greatly improve motor skills, improve quality of life and represent prevention against obesity. In order to reduce weight, it is necessary to take into account nutrition laws (Mesarič, 2017).


Ells, L. J., Lang, R., Shield, J. P., Wilkinson, J. R., Lidstone, J. S., Coulton, S. and Summerbell, C. D. (2006), Obesity and disability – a short review. Obesity Reviews, 7: 341-345.

Liou, T., Pi-Sunyer, F. X. and Laferrere, B. (2005), Physical Disability and Obesity. Nutrition Reviews, 63: 321-331.

Lobstein, T., Baur, L., Uauy, R. (2004): Obesity in children and young people: a crisis in public health. Obes Rev.,5 Suppl 1:4-104.

Mesarič, L. (2017): Adaptirano fizičko vežbanje za osobe sa traumatskom povredom mozga (master rad). Fakultet za sport i turizam, Novi Sad

Sackett, D., Rosenberg W.M., Gray, J.A., Haynes, R.B., Richardson, W.S. (1996) Evidence based medicine: What it is and what it isn’t. BMJ. 13; 312(7023): 71-2.

Swinburn, B., Gill, T., Kumanyika, S. (2005): Obesity prevention: a proposed framework for translating evidence into action. Obes Rev., 6 (1): 23-33.

WHO Helth Topics, Obesity. Prevzeto 21. decembra 2018 s strani: http://www.who.int/topics/obesity/en