Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


Public Health

First Advisor

Dr. Shannon Self Brown

Second Advisor

Dr. Alyson Goodman



According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, an individual with a disability has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (ADA, 2014). A large body of literature indicates a strong relationship between disability and poor health. Adults with disabilities are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions than adults with no limitations. Thus, this vulnerable population with disabilities should be targeted for health promotion efforts. Healthy People 2020 calls for the inclusion of people with disabilities in U.S. health promotion efforts (Dixon, 2014). According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals with disabilities that begin during the developmental period and last throughout their lifetime causing impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas, are defined as having developmental disabilities (DD) (CDC, 2014). Despite the increasing prevalence of DD in the US, there is little known about the association of DD and chronic health conditions such as obesity, cancer, hypertension and diabetes mellitus. Developmental disability can impact healthy eating habits and physical activity; thus, people living with DD are a vulnerable population at risk of becoming overweight and/or obese and developing a multitude of chronic diseases. Emerging research supports an association between childhood obesity and ASD, one type of DD, documenting that the problem of overweight/obesity in children with ASD is at least as common, if not higher, than in the general pediatric population (Curtin, Anderson, Must, & Bandini, 2010). Although there are some studies that document the association of chronic diseases and intellectual disability among adults (Bhaumik, Watson, Thorp, Tyrer, & McGrother, 2008; de Winter, Bastiaanse, Hilgenkamp, Evenhuis, & Echteld, 2012b; de Winter, Magilsen, van Alfen, Penning, & Evenhuis, 2009; Melville, Hamilton, Hankey, Miller, & Boyle, 2007; Morin, Merineau-Cote, Ouellette-Kuntz, Tasse, & Kerr, 2012; Reichard & Stolzle, 2011; Rimmer & Wang, 2005), limited research has examined whether adults diagnosed with DD are more likely to become obese or have other chronic diseases. This is increasingly important as most recent data suggest that approximately 1 in 6 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with a DD, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to more pervasive DDs, such as intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (CDC, 2014).

Based on the paucity of research examining the relationship between DDs, including ASD, and chronic diseases that emerge during adolescence and adulthood, the purpose of this study is to examine these relationships, and to provide information about the health status of children and adolescents with DDs as they transition into adulthood. In order to achieve this purpose, an evaluation project was adopted that examined a health promotion program for adults with DDs that aimed to improve or maintain current health status, increase knowledge about healthy food and exercise choices and improve overall health behavior of adults with DDs.