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Participation in Special Olympics reduces the rate for developing diabetes in adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities


Aim — Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) have a significantly higher prevalence of Type 2 diabetes than the general population. Evidence that lifestyle and/or behavioural interventions, such as participation in Special Olympics, decreases the risk of developing diabetes in adults with IDD could help minimize health disparities and promote overall health in this population.

Methods — This was a 20-year retrospective cohort study of adults with IDD (30–39 years) in the province of Ontario, Canada, that compared hazard rates of diabetes among Special Olympics participants (n = 4145) to non-participants (n = 31,009) using administrative health databases housed at ICES. Using cox proportional hazard models, crude and adjusted hazard ratios were calculated for the association between the primary independent variable (Special Olympics participation status) and the dependent variable (incident diabetes cases).

Results — After controlling for other variables, the hazard ratio comparing rates for developing diabetes between Special Olympics participants and non-participants was 0.85. This represents a 15% reduction in the hazard among Special Olympics participants when followed for up to 20 years. This result was statistically significant and represents a small effect size.

Conclusions — Special Olympics could be considered a complex intervention that promotes physical activity engagement through sport participation, health screenings, and the promotion of healthy eating habits through educational initiatives. This study provides evidence that Special Olympics participation decreases the rate for developing diabetes.



Lloyd M, Temple V, Foley J, Yeatman S, Lunsky Y, Huang A, Balogh R. Diabet Med. 2024; Jun 25 [Epub ahead of print].

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