UMMS researcher examines health disparities among people with disabilities in CDC report

By Tom Lyons

UMass Medical School Communications

August 30, 2013
Monika Mitra, PhD

Promoting the health of people with disabilities and closing the gap in health disparities that they experience is the topic of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention article co-authored by Monika Mitra, PhD, assistant professor of family medicine & community health, and a research scientist in the Center for Health Policy and Research, a unit of UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division.

According to the article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, while individual with disabilities experience the same chronic health problems as people without disabilities, those with significant limitations in function experience higher rates of smoking and obesity, as well as poorer overall health outcomes from these and other chronic conditions.

The CDC estimates that 16 percent of adults in the U.S. have serious limitation in physical, cognitive or sensory functioning. And, according to its latest figures, disability-associated health care expenditures in 2006 exceeded one-quarter of all national health expenditures—more than $400 billion.

Dr. Mitra and co-authors urge public health organizations at all levels to focus not just on health promotion activities for people with disabilities, but also call for a “multifaceted approach . . . to eliminate health disparities and reduce the socioeconomic disadvantages and structural barriers to the health system faced by persons with disabilities.”

The authors cite a number of examples of public health interventions aimed at increasing access to health and public services, including improving transportation options, reducing physical barriers in physicians’ offices, and training health care staff about the unique needs of people with disabilities.

When children and adults with disabilities receive needed programs, services and health care throughout their life, they can reach their full potential, have an improved quality of life and can experience independence in the communities where they live.