Facing the same challenges as other American adults and
youth, those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are
experiencing similar levels of obesity as the general population. However, research
indicates that without effective interventions, overweight and obesity rates
among those with I/DD are expected to skyrocket.
Many of us, especially at this time of year, fall back on
the adage “eat less and exercise more” as we make New Year’s resolutions to
improve our health. New research tells us it’s not that simple. According to
experts in obesity prevention, diet and exercise aren’t the solution for long
term weight loss and wellness.
Eat less and exercise more is especially problematic for
people with disabilities. According to the CDC, people with disabilities face
additional challenges such as:
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Medications that affect appetite or promote
- Pain or other physical attributes that affect
the ability to exercise
- Lack of resources and options for healthy food
and exercise choices
If eating less and exercising more isn’t the answer, what
is? Here are a few tips to help you and your loved one make choices for a
healthier life, followed by a comprehensive healthy-lifestyle toolkit developed
for people with I/DD.
7 areas of a healthy lifestyle that aren’t “eat less,
- Slow down: If you’re a quick eater, it’s
easy to overeat before your body realizes you’re full. Take your time and enjoy
- Drink plenty of water: Thirst is often
mistaken for hunger. Satisfying your thirst with water can head off hunger. As
a bonus, replacing sugary or calorie-laden drinks with water will reduce
- Prioritize sleep: Lack of sleep affects
hormones, energy and activity level, and motivation. It’s also linked to weight
gain with people who sleep the least more likely to gain fat around their
- Find time to relax: Stress makes people
crave unhealthy foods while meditation, yoga, mindfulness and exercise all
- Avoid distracted eating: People who eat
in front of the TV, while browsing the internet, reading, or enjoying a
baseball game or movie eat more than those who focus on their meal. They also
tend to eat more later in the day. Practice mindfulness and pay attention while
you’re enjoying your meal.
- Don’t drink your calories: Whether it’s
juice, sugary drinks that don’t fill you up or specialty coffee drinks loaded with
sugar and dairy, drinks don’t satisfy as well as whole foods. In addition, there
are many studies, going back as far as 1966, that connect sugary drinks to
weight gain, poor health and chronic disease.
- Eat at regular mealtimes: People who eat
at irregular times have a higher risk of chronic diseases including heart
disease, insulin resistance and poor blood sugar control. People who have regular
mealtimes feel less hungry before their meals and more full after.
If you prefer a structured approach, Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0
is a simple and easy-to-follow method to promote a healthy lifestyle. It’s easy
to get started and it includes a comprehensive version designed for people with
I/DD that addresses unique needs and involves support providers and other
allies to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0 was developed by Maine Health and
The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center. It begins simply,
which might be all you need, recommending we:
- Eat 5 or more fruits and vegetables each
day to increase nutritional intake, which promotes growth and development and
improved immune function. Increased fruit and vegetable consumption also lowers
rates of chronic disease.
- Limit ourselves to 2 hours or less of
recreational screen time per day to control weight, improve reading scores
and avoid attention problems.
- Participate in 1 hour or more of
physical activity daily to help maintain weight and prevent chronic
- Drink 0 sugary drinks and more water to
reduce sugar consumption which is associated with overweight and obesity,
dental cavities and the reduction of milk in young people’s diet.
While it sounds like “eat less, exercise more,” we recommend
Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0 because it’s backed by a toolkit developed specifically for
people with I/DD. It will help you get started as a self-advocate or a parent or
guardian supporting healthy outcomes for your loved one. It also dives deep
into topics such as health care, non-food rewards and physical activity.
In addition, Main Health believes as we do that people “with
intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) deserve the same
opportunities to lead healthy lives as those offered to typically developing
children. While children with I/DD face many of the same challenges to being
healthy as their peers, they also experience unique risk factors and additional
challenges that increase their risk for obesity.”
The Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0 toolkit was developed for professionals
who work with children with I/DD. It has been adopted by multiple states as a public
Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0 today and get started. Share the toolkit with your loved
one’s doctor, counselor, school, caseworker, caregiver and other professional
partners who can help deliver the healthy life your loved one deserves.