Physical, Mental Disabilities Affect 22 Percent of U.S. Adults

disabilitiesMore than one out of every five American adults lives with a disability. According to the U.S. government, 22 percent of adults have physical or mental disabilities that impact their careers, health and routine activities daily. That percentage is bound to increase in the coming years with the aging baby boomers and have broader societal impacts on shopping, transportation, government programs and ultimately the economy.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new study on disability types by state. In addition the report breaks down types of disabilities and their affects of the livelihood and other day-to-day aspects of life for those afflicted. The findings were published on Friday, July 31, in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“We are all at risk of having a disability at some point in our lifetime,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Health professionals and health care systems need to meet the needs of this growing population.”

The CDC reported what percentages of the 53 million affected people in the country had which particular types of disabilities at the time of their study. The breakdown for American adults is:

  • 13 percent of adults have mobility issues that make walking or climbing stairs difficult.
  • 6 percent of have a cognitive disability that affects their ability to concentrate on things, make decisions or remember information.
  • 5 percent of people have a disability that affects their ability to live independently, such as difficulty going shopping or visiting a doctor’s office by himself or herself.
  • 6 percent are blind or cannot see clearly even with glasses.
  • 6 percent need help caring for themselves in day-to-day activities like bathing and dressing.

Examining the data by geographic area, the researchers found much higher percentages of people with disabilities in the South. The three Southern states with the highest percentages of people with one or more disability were Alabama (31.5 percent) and Mississippi and Tennessee (each with 31.4 percent). Those numbers are not surprising considering those states have much higher rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues affected by physical activity. While the cause-effect relationship may be a chicken-egg timing debate, adults with disabilities are fare more likely to be obese (38.4 percent), have high blood pressure (41.7 percent) and be inactive (36.3 percent) that those without disabilities (24.4 percent, 26.3 percent and almost 24 percent, respectively).

There are other socioeconomic factors that the data show are more typical for those with disabilities. For example, blacks (29 percent) and Hispanics (26 percent) are more apt to have disabilities than whites (roughly 21 percent). Approximately one out of every four women has a disability.

“For the past 25 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has made a positive difference in the lives of those who have disabilities by ensuring better access to buildings, transportation, and employment,” noted Georgina Peacock, M.D., M.P.H., who is the CDC’s Director of Division of Human Development and Disability. While it has helped improve the data, those with a disability are more likely to be unemployed, earn less if they have a job, and have a lower level of education than those without disabilities. With physical and mental disabilities having an affect on 22 percent of U.S. adults, and those numbers growing, it will be more important to have better public health and job programs available for the disabled in the future.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): 53 million adults in the US live with a disability
USA Today: CDC: 1 in 5 American adults live with a disability
Live Science: 1 in 5 Adult Americans Report Having a Disability
U.S. News & World Report: 1 in 5 U.S. Adults Has a Physical, Mental Disability: CDC

Photo by Zipster969, – Creative Commons license