Women with disabilities more likely to report food insecurity, NYU study finds

A recent NYU School of Global Public Health study found that adult women with disabilities are twice as likely to report poor diets and food insecurity in the United States.


The School of Global Public Health at NYU conducted a study of food insecurity in women with disabilities. (Illustration by Chelsea Li)

Nina Huang, Contributing Writer

Female adults with disabilities are more than twice as likely to experience food insecurity in comparison to those without disabilities, according to a recent study from the NYU School of Global Public Health. The study participants — which consisted of women between the ages of 18 and 44 who have disabilities related to sight, hearing, comprehension and mobility — were also more likely to report poor dietary habits.

Several of the reported poor dietary habits are associated with adverse mental and physical health outcomes including depression, obesity and chronic medical conditions. Researchers said that these adverse impacts were partially a result of higher rates of participation in food assistance programs and consumption of frozen food among women with disabilities. 

The study also found that there are common disparities in several health risk behaviors between women with disabilities compared with women who do not have disabilities, including excessive alcohol use, smoking, sedentary lifestyles and lower rates of health care use. Andrea Deierlein, the lead researcher of the study and associate professor of public health nutrition at GPH, said that the study’s findings will inform efforts to improve the group’s long-term health outcomes.

“In terms of community-based efforts to involve individuals with disabilities, we can think about ways to improve grocery stores or delivery services,” Deierlein said. “We can consider what healthy foods are accessible to these individuals or improve the types of healthy foods that are available in grocery stores or for delivery.”

While women with two or more separate disabilities had slightly lower diet quality than those who reported one disability, there were few overall differences in consumption of fruit and high-protein meals between the groups. The study also found that women are less likely to be responsible for meal preparation and grocery shopping than men who live in the same household. 

“We saw that females with disabilities reported that they were less likely to be the main food shoppers, which suggests that maybe other people are preparing food or food shopping for them,” Deierlein said. “This points to conversations about dietary intake that we can have with certain support systems so that women with disabilities are more empowered to make decisions about improving their nutritional status.”

According to Deierlein, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data previously indicated that approximately 18% of adult women have at least one reported disability, but information about differences in dietary intakes by disability status remains understudied.

Bridget Hussain, a certified dietitian and clinical assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, said that additional research of this nature can pave the way for solutions to disparities between people with disabilities and their counterparts.

“In terms of epidemiology in general, it’s good to understand how big the problem is and who’s impacted by the problem because that’s when we can do more studies on intervention and ways to lessen the disparity,” Hussain said. “It’s almost like a State of the Union — what is the state of the issue and then based on that information, we can design interventions for specific populations.”

Contact Nina Huang at [email protected].