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In the News

Inclusive Health Can Prevent Diabetes and Save Lives

Mallory Morris in workout clothes and a t-shirt that reads: Team Kansas Special Olympics, is holding a sign that reads Hashtag Inclusive Health

Mallory Morris is a twenty-four year old Special Olympics who competes in volleyball, basketball, softball, and track and field in her hometown of Manhattan, Kansas. She, along with her sister have been involved with Special Olympics since 2009. She also has Type 2 diabetes.

Mallory is at a higher risk for diabetes, along with the other 200 million people with intellectual disabilities (ID) around the world.

There is little research into why this disparity exists, but people with ID have less access to quality health care and health promotion programs and the impact is clear: Data shows that in the United States, 74% of Special Olympics adult athletes are overweight, compared to 46% of the general population. Prevalence of diabetes among people with ID is 1.5 times the rate of the general population, and females with ID are more likely to have diabetes than males with ID.

Chart that reads: 74% of Special Olympics adult athletes who are overweight. 46% of General population adults who are overweight.

Managing diabetes is costly. Over 425 million people are currently living with diabetes, and each one needs insulin, essential medicines, and daily monitoring, in addition to ongoing health care. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show every year 15 million people between the ages of 30 and 69 die from a noncommunicable disease like diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, cancer, and asthma. Noncommunicable diseases are by far the leading cause of death in the world.

Diabetes is preventable and the disparity for people with ID is fixable. Special Olympics Health, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, is changing health systems around the world to unlock equal access to quality health care for people with ID. A health system inclusive of people with ID ensures this historically marginalized population is represented in health policies, laws, programming, services, training programs, research, and funding.

When people with ID have access to health, they have more opportunities for education, employment, and other pathways to full participation in society. Additionally, when athletes compete in Special Olympics competitions and participate in fitness programming, they lower their chances of developing diabetes and increase their chances of living longer, healthier lives.

Mallory and her sister began exercising and adopted a healthy diet. As a result, Mallory lost 40 pounds and now manages her diabetes successfully. She competed at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, Washington on an all-girls basketball team!

1. Special Olympics. Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Program Data. Healthy Athletes Prevalence Report. 2018
2. Balogh et al. Disparities in Diabetes Prevalence and Preventable Hospitalizations in People with Intellectual and Developmental Disability: A Population-Based Study. Diabetic Medicine. 32: 235-242. 2015

Special Olympics Health is supported by cooperative agreement #NU27DD001156 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are the responsibility of Special Olympics and do not necessarily represent the views of CDC. Alternative formats are available on request.