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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

People with Disabilities Experience Unrecognized Health Disparities, New Oregon State Research Shows

People with disabilities have unmet medical needs and poorer overall health throughout their lives, and as a result should be recognized as a health disparity group so more attention can be directed to improving their quality of life, a team of policy researchers has found.


[Photo: Dr. Gloria Krahn]

“Many of the health concerns of people with disabilities, including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, are largely preventable and unrelated to the disability,” said Dr. Gloria Krahn of Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. Dr. Krahn is lead author on a new paper advocating the recognition.

“There is no overt reason, based on the diagnosed condition, that people with disabilities should have higher rates of these diseases,” said Dr. Krahn, the Barbara E. Knudson Endowed Chair in Family Policy and a professor of practice in public health at OSU. “There may always be some disparity in health because of a person’s disability, but people can have disabilities and also be healthy.”

The researchers’ findings were published this month in an article in the American Journal of Public Health. Co-authors are Dr. Deborah Klein Walker of Abt Associates and Dr. Rosaly Correa-de-Araujo of the National Institutes of Health. The article was based on research conducted primarily while Dr. Krahn was working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People with significant disabilities – defined federally as functional limitations of movement, vision, hearing, or problem-solving – make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population. Reducing the incidence of preventable diseases in this population could lead to improved quality of life as well as significant reductions in health care costs, Dr. Krahn said.

Race and ethnicity are used to define health disparity populations by state and federal governments. Disability is not recognized as a disparity population, even though people with disabilities are, on average, in poorer health than the rest of the population. Adults with disabilities are 2.5 times more likely to report skipping or delaying health care because of costs, and they have higher rates of chronic disease than the general population.

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