March is National Nutrition Month, organized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, focusing attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. Many people with disabilities may face challenges when trying to make healthy food choices, from being able to understand labels and ingredients to living in communities with less access to fresh and healthy food choices. There are nutrition and wellness programs which aim to meet the needs of people with disabilities who want to meet their wellness goals. Some of these resources are available free of charge; others may include set up or materials fees.
From the NIDILRR community:
Health Matters was originally developed at the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Aging with Developmental Disabilities and is now being expanded across the US. The HealthMatters Program works with individuals, community-based organizations, local communities, and state partners to bring holistic and inclusive health promotion programming to people with developmental disabilities. Through RRTC, over 10,000 individuals with developmental disabilities have completed the evidence-based 12-week HealthMatters Program, and 2,500 instructors have been certified to run the HealthMatters Program in over 30 states and 8 countries.
Partnerships in Wellness, developed under a field-initiated grant and available through the RRTC on Community Living for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (RTC/CL), addresses the unique learning needs of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who require ongoing daily supports, have limited reading skills, and would benefit from learning about improved nutrition and activity. The program takes a unique approach by teaming a participant with a partner who does not have a disability. Both partners learn new information, skills, and habits as they relate to their own health and well-being.
Nutrition and Exercise for Wellness and Recovery, developed and tested under a field-initiated project, helps people with mental illnesses gain new knowledge and skills for healthier eating and physical activity. Participants focus on nutrition, meal planning, reducing portion sizes, and increasing daily exercise. Peer support and intentionality help participants stay on track.
Disability FEAST (Food Education, Access, Support, and Training) was also developed under a field-initiated project. This online “cookbook plus” for people with disabilities and seniors has recipes, tip sheets, and other resources.
The Life Skills Manual, another product developed under a field-initiated grant, is designed to assist people with psychiatric disabilities to successfully transition from homelessness to stable housing. The four-volume curriculum includes a module on Food and Nutrition Management, covering preparing healthy meals and snacks, eating healthy on a budget, and identifying food resources in the community.
From the Disability and Rehabilitation Community:
The National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability has a wealth of information on nutrition and disability, from simple steps just about anyone can take, to addressing disability-specific issues.
The University of Alabama Spinal Cord Injury Model System Information Network features the EatRight® Weight Management Program, developed under a grant from the Paralyzed Veterans of America. The 12-week program introduces healthy lifestyles and covers healthy food choices; planning, shopping for, and cooking healthy meals; goal setting; exercise; managing stress; and much more.
The National Institute on Aging also offers many articles on healthy eating geared toward seniors. Articles tackle smart food choices, eating healthy on a budget, maintaining a healthy weight, and more.
You should always consult with your primary care provider when ever you start on a new path to wellness to make sure you’re meeting your nutritional needs, aware of how medication and foods may interact, and exercising safely.