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Top 4 Risk Factors: Obesity and the Special Needs Child

We’ve all heard that childhood obesity is a national epidemic. In fact, around 30% of children in America are overweight, setting them up for serious health problems previously not revealed until adulthood.

But what we don’t hear about as often, is obesity among children with special needs. Special needs kids are at an even higher risk of becoming overweight and obese compared to their peers.

Children with disabilities face similar obesity risks as other children, due to:

-Increased food portion sizes
-Decreased physical activity
-More screen time
-Greater consumption of sugary drinks

But they also face unique barriers that can hinder healthy weight. 

Here are the Top 4 Risk Factors:

1. Medications
The majority of children with a special health care need take at least one prescription drug, and many medications are associated with weight gain.

2. Family Stress
With the combination of packed schedules including medical and therapeutic appointments, and a myriad of special care-giving responsibilities at home, a special needs child’s nutrition and exercise routine may be directly impacted. In the interest of saving time, packaged or convenience foods may be chosen over homemade meals, and exercise is put into the “when we can find the time” category. Additionally, due to increased medical expenses or the inability of a parent to work full-time while tending to their child’s needs, purchasing healthier foods or hiring professional consultants may be financially out of reach for them.

3. Genetic Disorders
Obesity is a major symptom in several genetic disorders such as Prader-Willi syndrome, Bardet-Biedl syndrome, Cohen syndrome, Ayazi syndrome, and MOMO syndrome. Other conditions such as Down Syndrome, disorders on the autism spectrum, and spina bifida also have features that increase the risk for obesity.

4. Social Isolation/Perceived Risk
Due to developmental delays and physical hindrances, children with special needs may have fewer friends or miss out on free play with other kids their age. They also may be excluded from team sports since they may be unable to contribute to team victories in a similar capacity as their peers. Additionally, sometimes the adults in a child’s life perceive that sports will be too difficult, dangerous or disappointing for their special needs child and therefore don’t allow them to participate.