Date Presented 04/22/2023

The obesity and food and nutrition security link will be illustrated using the Person–Environment–Occupational–Performance model and lived experience of an autistic adult with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Primary Author and Speaker: Allison Caudill

Additional Authors and Speakers: Kayte Barton

Contributing Authors: Karla Ausderau

PURPOSE: Adults with intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) have unique and complex health needs. As a result, individuals with IDD are often at an increased risk for preventable and chronic health conditions, like obesity. People with IDD are also more likely to experience poverty and poverty-related health disparities compared to their peers, which can negatively impact other areas of health and well-being, including food security. Food and nutrition security (FNS) refers to an individual’s ability to obtain food to live a happy and healthy life and requires food to be available, accessible, and adequate related to quantity, quality, safety, and sociocultural acceptability (Moore et al., 2021). Some of the well-documented existing barriers to health promotion, such as transportation and financial limitations, also negatively impact food and nutrition access, too. For example, adults with IDD may require the use of public transportation which can limit purchasing options and may lead to a higher propensity for processed meals which are higher in total cost and lower in nutritional value.

DESIGN: This study will include a literature review and a narrative case-study. This presentation will also draw upon the Person-Environment-Occupation-Performance (PEOP) model to describe the impact of person and environmental-level factors on food security for adults with IDD.

METHODS/RESULTS: A literature review showed emerging evidence that obesity and food security are public health concerns that influence both the individual and environmental level. Preliminary data on nutrition deficiencies in this population show that adults with IDD are more likely to have a diet high in sodium, trans fat, and processed foods. Using a case study approach, an autistic adult with an intellectual disability will also present her lived experience of food and nutrition insecurity and how it aligned with the literature review. Her lived experience illustrates how food and nutrition insecurity, obesity, and IDD can be inextricably linked.

CONCLUSION: While literature directly addressing the interplay of food and nutrition insecurity and obesity for people with IDD is limited, lived experiences of individuals with IDD are elevating the need for more research and discussion of the implications on this topic. This study will continue to forward innovative occupational therapy intervention ideas and areas for research to address an existing gap in the literature on food and nutritional security. This study will also propose next steps for addressing the intersection of obesity, FNS, and IDD and provide opportunities for accessible and inclusive dissemination. By integrating self advocates and adults with IDD in the research process, researchers can be better apt to identify salient priorities and solutions to address food and nutrition security concerns in this population. A key component of occupational therapy practice is health promotion. Engaging in meaningful activities that support access to available, quality, safe, and socioculturally accessible food, some of the key characteristics to food security, is synonymous with the values of occupational therapy practice, therefore, should be considered as an appropriate OT intervention approaches. This presentation will also discuss the role of occupational therapists in addressing FNS in adults with IDD and provide pragmatic and meaningful recommendations for practitioners to be involved in this area of work.


Anderson, L. L., Humphries, K., McDermott, S., Marks, B., Sisirak, J., & Larson, S. (2013). The state of the science of health and wellness for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Intellectual and developmental disabilities, 51(5), 385-398.

Brucker, D. L., & Nord, D. (2016). Food insecurity among young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the United States: Evidence from the National Health Interview Survey. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 121(6), 520-532.

Krahn, G. L., & Fox, M. H. (2014). Health disparities of adults with intellectual disabilities: what do we know? What do we do?. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 27(5), 431-446.

Moore, R., Dada, S., Emmambux, M. N., & Samuels, A. (2021). Food and nutrition security in persons with disabilities. A scoping review. Global Food Security, 31, 100581.