How do children with disabilities view ‘healthy living’? A descriptive pilot study

McPherson AC, Lindsay S.  Bloorview Research Institute, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Canada.  Disabil Health J. 2012 Jul;5(3):201-9. doi: 10.1016/j.dhjo.2012.04.004.

BACKGROUND:  Childhood obesity is one of the greatest health problems of the 21st Century. Compared with their non-disabled peers, children with disabilities have been shown to be at higher risk of obesity and associated secondary conditions which can hinder independence and community participation. Health promotion initiatives for children are rarely tailored to those with disabilities, and children may have different perceptions of health and well-being than those without disabilities. These need to be understood for future health promotion programs to be effective.

METHODS:  This pilot study explored how children with disabilities perceive health and well-being and involved four discussion groups with children who were currently inpatients at a children’s rehabilitation hospital. Descriptive thematic analysis was used.

RESULTS:  Fourteen children (eight girls, six boys; aged 8-13 years) with a range of congenital and acquired conditions participated in one of four discussion groups. There was an awareness of “healthy living” behaviors, nutrition and exercise examples being most commonly cited, although participants particularly discussed “unhealthy” food preferences. Physical capabilities, both before their hospital stay and their expectations for future activities, were also prominent.

CONCLUSION:  Although children in this study had some basic understanding of healthy nutrition, it was not easily translated to their own food choices. Children may need assistance to engage in rewarding physical activities within the constraints of their disability.