Healthy living and food choices

People with disabilities need health care and health programs for the same reasons anyone else does—to stay well, active, and a part of the community.

Having a disability does not mean a person is not healthy or that he or she cannot be healthy. Being healthy means the same thing for all of us—getting and staying well so we can lead full, active lives. That means having the tools and information to make healthy choices and knowing how to prevent illness.

For people with disabilities, it also means knowing that health problems related to a disability can be treated. These problems, also called secondary conditions, can include pain, depression, and a greater risk for certain illnesses.

To be healthy, people with disabilities require health care that meets their needs as a whole person, not just as a person with a disability. Most people with or without disabilities can stay healthy by learning about and living healthy lifestyles.

Research shows that a healthy diet would improve the quality and length of most individuals’ lives. Poor diet is related to obesity and illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension.

Individuals with primary disabilities often experience “secondary conditions” – additional physical and psychological problems that limit a person’s enjoyment of life and participation in activities. Health research conducted with adults who have I/DD shows that diet affects many of their most frequently reported secondary conditions, such as fatigue, weight problems, and constipation or diarrhea. Proper nutrition can increase these individuals’ quality of life by improving existing secondary conditions and
preventing additional conditions from developing.

Personal assistants and others responsible for nutrition or planning and preparing meals for adults with I/DD should read the Standards of Care and understand how to implement them. Training in safe food handling practices and basic nutrition is necessary.

1. Provide health-promoting food and nutrition supports.
2. Provide information, knowledgeable encouragement, and positive social/instrumental support (assist in grocery shopping, cooking, etc.) to help individuals make good food choices.
3. Support participation in activities that encourage healthy eating and physical activity.

Three Levels of Standards: The goal of these Standards is to ensure that individuals with I/DD receive quality food and nutrition that promotes their health and participation in activities. There are three levels of standards necessary to achieve quality food and nutrition supports. Your role is to help implement the standards at each level, so that each individual:

·       Level 1 – Has a diet that is safe and nutritionally adequate.

·       Level 2 – Has a diet that addresses his or her special needs.

·       Level 3 – Is encouraged to eat recommended portions of healthy foods associated with lower risk for common chronic diseases and conditions.