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Alarming Obesity Rates Among New York’s Disabled Population

The New York State Department of Health’s new information on the high rates of obesity among the disabled community is deeply concerning, says a statewide coalition of disease prevention experts and advocates. According to the NYS DOH Overweight and Obesity Brief issued this week, almost 70% of New Yorkers with a disability are overweight or obese. This far exceeds rates for any other NYS population.
“We are troubled but not surprised to note that the percentage of people with disabilities who report being obese is 34.9%, and that there’s an additional 34.2% who are overweight—the highest of any category recorded,” said Denise Figueroa, the executive director of the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley, an organization fighting for the rights of people with disabilities for over 25 years.
The Independent Living Center is among the members of the DASH-NY coalition working to “Design a Strong and Healthy New York,” and prevent obesity and chronic disease. Housed at The New York Academy of Medicine, DASH-NY works toward community and statewide policy and design changes that can increase access to healthy foods, physical activity, and appropriate health care.

“When you prioritize disease prevention, you realize there are many basic things we can do to transform the environment and make it easier for people to eat right and get exercise,” said Dr. Ruth Finkelstein, co-director of DASH-NY and NYAM SVP for Health Policy and Planning. “Take, for example, the fact that thousands of meals are served each day to New Yorkers with disabilities in group homes and through other organized programs. Every meal served could be a healthy meal that adheres to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”
DASH-NY Co-chair Ellie Wilson, MS, RD, added, “Many individuals with disabilities are already more vulnerable to chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease as an aspect of their condition. Nutrition standards can ensure the food offered in care settings truly serves the health of our disabled residents. The standards also ensure the market has targets they can use to formulate products to meet these needs. Ultimately, better nutrition assists everyone with maximizing potential and improving quality of life.”
New York City has implemented nutritional standards for its agencies.  DASH-NY is working to ensure state agencies and community organizations get the technical assistance and funding they need to also implement such standards.

Additional DASH-NY priorities include assuring New Yorkers with poor health status, like people with disabilities and communities of color, get appropriate nutritional guidance from the primary care setting and removing barriers to physical activity.

“We must address the challenges in the environment that prevent people with disabilities from leading healthy lives,” said Figueroa, “including the lack of access to modified physical education in school settings for young people with disabilities, and the limited implementation of the NYS Complete Streets law.”

New York’s Complete Streets law, passed in August 2011, intends that all New York’s streets be made safe, accessible, and convenient for users of all ages and abilities, including pedestrians, bicyclists, users of public transit, and motorists. Promoting Complete Streets encourages routine physical activity, which can lower rates of chronic disease. Research recently completed at The New York Academy of Medicine indicates that the law is not being implemented across all communities.
DASH-NY is New York’s Statewide Obesity Prevention Policy Center and Coalition. For more information, visit

Posted on July 19, 2013

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Gina Ravosa
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