Determinants of physical activity and dietary choices in adolescents with intellectual disability: a feasibility study


  • G. Stevens
  • F. Mitchell
  • A. Jahoda
  • L. Matthews
  • C. Hankey
  • H. Murray
  • C. Melville


Background: The prevalence of obesity is higher in those with intellectual disabilities than the general population. Research suggests that the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood is a time of particular risk for the development of obesity in the general population. However, no research has explored the factors which influence the lifestyle behaviours of adolescents with intellectual disabilities immediately pre transition from school to adulthood. Thus, the aim of the study was to understand the determinants of physical activity and dietary patterns and choices in this population during their final year of school. Methods: Qualitative data was generated from 10 interviews with adolescents with mild-moderate intellectual disabilities in their final year of secondary school. Participants were recruited from four additional support need (ASN) schools in the Greater Glasgow and South Lanarkshire area. Data were analysed using inductive thematic analysis. Findings: Pre-transition, adolescents’ school environment and social interactions play a pivotal role in influencing their engagement with physical activity and dietary choices. Three themes emerged from the analysis: situatedness, motivation and wider environmental influences. Themes are discussed in terms of autonomy, competence, and social relatedness, supporting Deci and Ryan’s Self Determination Theory (1985). Discussion: School structure and social connectedness facilitate increased physical activity, healthier diet, and increased perceived self-efficacy in adolescents with intellectual disabilities. Out-of-school/home life and a lack of social connectedness can serve as a barrier to self-determination, impacting on engagement in health-enhancing behaviours in adolescents with intellectual disabilities.





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