June 13, 2024


Enriching Health Natural

Importance of Nutrition For Those With Special Health Needs

5 min read

Everyone needs good health and good nutrition to live their optimal life. There are some people for whom good nutrition is even more important, including those who have developmental disabilities and special health care needs. Nutrition is often an overlooked aspect of these people’s life, but can help to keep them healthier and allow medications to work better.

Shawn is 28 years old and has Down syndrome. He is working at a local pizza shop and enjoys outings with his friends. Although his mother was against the idea at first, Shawn recently moved into an apartment with three other young men who also have developmental disabilities. Like other fellows their age, they do not always eat the healthiest diet and occasionally they do not eat at all.

Shawn and his roommates do have an agency that sends in staff to help plan and cook meals, however, the four men are rarely home at the same time and each have different nutritional needs and desires. Shawn enjoys his job, including one of the perks, which is free pizza that he gets to eat with the others who work at the shop. He has gained thirty pounds in the first three months of working there, which is worrisome for his mother for a number of reasons.

The American Dietetic Association’s research indicates the need for better programs for those not only with developmental disabilities but with other special health needs and considerations, not only for their weight but for the physical, behavioral and psychological problems that excessive weight gain may have for them (Source: Science News)

Down syndrome occurs in 1 in every 700 births, with the greatest risk being for children born to older women. This syndrome is the most common chromosomal abnormality and is the cause of nearly 40{dc95c22c9cec96e4b887cb128e750bad45acd6bf2ff75ab29d9ade61e84bfb51} of all cases of moderate to severe mental retardation. Babies with Down syndrome have brains that appear normal at birth but tend to shrink in their early childhood years, most typically in the hippocampal area of the brain, which causes cognitive difficulties and dysfunction.

In the past, babies with Down syndrome were institutionalized and left alone, however, they are now given far better prognoses, with many of them like Shawn moving out to live far more independent lives. Life expectancy has increased as well, with many people with Down syndrome living into their 60’s. They do have an increased risk of certain conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, leukemia and cardiovascular disease, and are more likely to die from these conditions sooner (Source: Papalia, Olds and Feldman).

When Shawn was small, he had a problem with his heart which was treated with surgery and medications. During his youth and rebellious teen years, his mother has tried to help him stay on track with his health and his weight, but he has always had a taste for sweets and heavier foods, so his weight has always been an issue. Now that he is working and on his own, there is less direction for him and he is gaining weight because of it. The ADA would like to see more emphasis on training and educating Shawn and others like him about the importance of making healthier food choices. In addition, it is important to educate the facilities and the agencies that are charged with helping these individuals so that they can assist in making the right choices for foods. It is not about taking away rights or making choices for anybody, it is about helping people to make better choices for themselves.

Shawn and his roommates are different in their needs, including David, who has food allergies. Because he is continually losing weight related to his own condition, a third roommate is looking at the prospect of having a feeding tube to supplement his oral feeding, something he is working to avoid. The fourth roommate, like David and Shawn, is overweight and would like to lose some of his weight.

One of the benefits of the area that they are living in is a sheltered workshop, which not only has helped these four young men to get jobs and to find staffing to help them live in their own home, but also offers enrichment courses so that they can continually learn new information at their own level. They agree to enroll in nutrition courses, where they learn the importance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins as well as the different vitamins and minerals that they need to have in their daily diet. Shawn, his staff and his mother also go to a nutritionist to get a customized eating plan that he can try to follow. He will learn what foods he should eat more of and which he should eat less of, including how to make his daily pizza a little healthier, for instance, by limiting the cheese, boosting the sauce and using veggies instead of meat toppings on the slices that he eats.

Part of the reason that he is eating so much when he gets to work is because he is not eating a very big breakfast and is starving by the time his break comes along. One of the things that he will change is eating a bigger and healthier breakfast before leaving the house. By eating a morning meal that has protein and carbohydrates, he has the energy that he needs to get the day started and is not starving at lunchtime. He is also going to pack a small snack to eat at his first short break before lunchtime comes along. He is also packing fruit to eat with his pizza so that he does not have to eat as much.

Shawn and his roommates are all using Profect, a protein supplement from Protica, which will also keep him from feeling like he is starving during the day when used as a between-meal snack. Each serving has 25 grams of protein and only 100 calories. Even Shawn’s roommate, David, who has food allergies, has found a Protica supplement that he can use. Proasis, the first all-natural liquid protein supplement, is free from lactose, aspartame, GMO, egg, yeast, wheat and gluten. In addition, Proasis is stimulant, preservative and cholesterol free. Both Proasis and Profect come in a number of sizes and flavors so that each of the men can find the flavor that they like the best.

Because of his heart condition, Shawn needs to make sure that he sticks to his new, healthier eating plan and try to lose the weight he has gained. In addition to the new food, he should also start a new exercise program. He has always been thrilled to go swimming, so he will be going twice a week and trying to get a walk in several additional times a week. He might even ask one of the girls that works at the pizza shop to walk with him during their lunchtime instead of scarfing down second helpings of the pizza.


– Diane E. Papalia, Sally Wendkos Olds and Ruth Duskin Feldman A Child’s World: Infancy Through Adolescence Eleventh Edition McGraw Hill Publishing Company. Boston MA 2008
– Science News/ Nutrition Services, Prevention Important in Nutrition Care for Special Health Needs. Science Daily February 1, 2010

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