Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Health Research and Evaluation

These resources may be used to inform others about the health status of people with intellectual disabilities (ID) and how Special Olympics programming is changing knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and health outcomes at the individual and systems levels. Evaluating this impact is critical to the Special Olympics movement.
Special Olympics adult athletes are two times more likely to be obese compared to adults without intellectual disabilities1.
Individuals with ID have as many chronic health conditions at 20+ years old as individuals in the general population do at 50+ years old2.
After participating in Special Olympics Fitness programs, athletes improved their health outcomes: 35% of athletes ate at least one more serving of fruits and veggies per day and 32% of athletes increased physical activity by at least one day per week. Blood pressure also decreased, especially in those with highest blood pressure readings, falling from 140/95 to 134/90.3
85% of healthcare professionals agreed that they would be able to provide better care for patients with ID after completing the Healthy Athletes Clinical Director training4.
34% of healthcare professionals report that their professional education did not prepare them to work with people with ID4.
In a global survey of the general population, 52% of respondents agree that people with ID are capable of describing health symptoms to a doctor 5.
Studies suggest that people with ID, on average, 16-20 years younger than their peers. One study from the UK6 suggests that people with ID die 16 years prematurely while one study in the US estimated that people with ID experience life expectancies that are 20 years lower than the general population7
Health has a substantial impact on quality of life for people with intellectual disabilities (ID) and affects Special Olympics athletes’ ability to train and compete in sports. Despite severe need and higher health risks, people with ID lack access to quality health services and prevention opportunities, resulting in avoidable health conditions at rates higher than peers without ID8.
Special Olympics' health programming impacts people with intellectual disabilities, healthcare professionals, families, policies, and communities. These resources include summaries of relevant findings.
The resources below include summaries of relevant findings and may be easily printed and shared with others.
• If you would like to conduct your own evaluation with SO health data, please click here to request access to the data.
• To request your Program’s Healthy Athletes data, please contact
• For all other inquiries, please contact
1 Min Read
1. Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Data (2019). Washington, DC: Special Olympics, Inc.
2. Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory (2018). Retrieved from
3. Rubenstein E et al., Evaluating the potential of Special Olympics fitness models as a health intervention for adults with intellectual disabilities, Disability and Health Journal,
4. Special Olympics Train the Trainer Survey (2019). Washington, DC: Special Olympics, Inc.
5. Special Olympics Attitudes Survey. (2018). Washington, DC: Special Olympics, Inc.
6. Heslop, P., Blair, P.S., Fleming, P., Hoghton, M., Marriott, A., & Russ, L. (2013). The Confidential Inquiry into premature deaths of people with intellectual disabilities in the UK: a population-based study. Lancet. 383 (9920), 889-95.
7. Lauer, E., & McCallion, P. (2015). Mortality of People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities from Select US State Disability Service Systems and Medical Claims Data. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 28, 394-405.
8. Krahn, G. L., Hammond, L., & Turner, A. (2006). A Cascade of Disparities: Health and Health Care Access for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities Research Reviews, 12: 70–82.