People with disabilities may experience unrecognized health disparities

People with disabilities have unmet medical needs and poorer overall health throughout their lives, according to data recently published in the American Journal of Public Health.

A team of policy researchers led by Gloria Krahn, PhD, MPH, Barbara E. Knudson Endowed Chair in Family Policy and professor of practice in public health at Oregon State University, found that people with disabilities should be recognized as a health disparity group so more attention will be directed to their quality of life.

Gloria Krahn


“Many of the health concerns about people with disabilities, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity, are largely preventive and unrelated to disability,” Krahn stated in a press release. “There is no overt reason, based on the diagnostic condition, that people with disabilities should have higher rates of these diseases. There may always be some disparity in health because of a person’s disability, but people can have disabilities and also be healthy.”

Establishing disability as a health disparity group is a way of bringing attention to a group with unmet needs, Krahn stated. The researchers suggested that recognizing people with disabilities as a health disparities population could lead to improved access to health care and human services, increased data on this population to aid in policy-making decisions, added training for health care providers, improved inclusion in public health programs and enhanced emergency-preparedness.

A focus on the group also could lead to creation of health promotion materials accessible to people with disabilities, the development of weight-loss or smoking cessation programs that serve the disabled and emergency evacuation and shelter training for people with disabilities.

“To say that disability is a health disparity will mark a significant shift in approach toward health care of people with disabilities. It would influence public health practice, research and policy,” Krahn stated.


Krahn G, et al. Am J Public Health. 2015;doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302182.

Disclosure: Krahn reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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