“Those disabled people, they’re not somebody else.”

CDC Public Health Grand Rounds

Public health leaders, including APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, discussed health equity for disabled Americans at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Grand Rounds last week in Atlanta. Photo by CDC

The words from APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin identified a continuing public health problem — health equity for Americans living with disabilities — at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Grand Rounds last week in Atlanta.

Defining the word “disability” shaped much of the dialogue, along with making “prevention of disability a core issue of medical care,” in the words of CDC Director Tom Frieden.

“Take the stigma out,” Benjamin said. “As I get older, it’s clear to me every morning when I get up a little stiffer than I did the day before, it’s clear someday I will have more challenges. Everyone should be able to see themselves in this place….It’s not somebody else’s problem, it’s our problem.”

Obesity, smoking and trouble accessing health care disproportionately affect disabled Americans, according to CDC data. Additionally:

  • one in six American adults live with a disability;
  • people with disabilities are 2.5 times more likely to have unmet health care needs than their non-disabled peers; and
  • $400 billion per year is spent on disability-related health expenditures.

Benjamin and Frieden called for an emphasis on preventive care for the disabled, including mammograms, colonoscopies, flu shots and exercise.

“How do you define and measure health life?” Frieden asked. “How do you measure disability? One of the researchers commented that, ‘People are changing in their expectations.’ People expect to be running a marathon at 65. I was recently in Japan for a public health event and my colleagues described going skiing and on the mountains, and most people there were over 65. They have a tremendous culture of fitness and staying fit. This is something that’s not easy to change, but it’s important.”

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