Research Highlights:

  • Women with self-reported disabilities were almost twice as likely to rate their diet as poor compared to women without disabilities.
  • Women with self-reported disabilities were nearly 2 times more likely to experience food insecurity compared to women without disabilities.

Embargoed until 4 a.m. CT/5 a.m. ET, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021

This news release contains updated data from the researchers compared to the abstract.

DALLAS, Nov. 8, 2021 — Women between the ages of 18-44 who reported having some type of disability, such as those related to cognition and activities of daily life, reported low diet healthfulness and low levels of food security when compared to women of the same age who did not have a disability, according to preliminary research to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2021. The meeting will be fully virtual, Saturday, November 13 through Monday, November 15, 2021, and is a premier global exchange of the latest scientific advancements, research and evidence-based clinical practice updates in cardiovascular science for health care professionals worldwide.

While diet is a potentially modifiable behavior critical for women of reproductive age, limited research is available regarding the potential differences in women’s diets categorized by disability status.

“Women with disabilities may face specific obstacles in improving their diet due to barriers related to their disabilities including medical conditions or physical limitations, as well as the availability of food,” said Andrea Deierlein, Ph.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of public health nutrition at the New York University School of Global Public Health and the study’s corresponding author. “It is important that health care professionals are aware and knowledgeable of these obstacles and make efforts to help women address and overcome them.”

To examine the connections among disability, diet quality and diet-related factors for women who are of reproductive age, researchers examined data detailing 3,507 women ages 18-44 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) between 2013-2018. NHANES is a nationally representative program of studies the National Center for Health Statistics uses to collect sociodemographic, health, clinical, laboratory and nutrition information about people in the U.S.

A questionnaire about whether the women had serious difficulties with sensory, physical and cognitive functions was used to determine disability status. The Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI-2015) assessed the women’s diet quality. The HEI-2015 is composed of 13 components, including fruits, vegetables, protein foods, whole grains, dairy, sodium and added sugar. Women also self-reported on their diets by quantifying the frequency of eating fast food, or frozen or preprepared meals; their participation in public food assistance programs; and/or whether they were the primary meal planner or food shopper in the household.

The analysis found that when compared to women without disabilities, women with any self-reported disabilities were:

  • almost two times more likely (1.9) to rate the quality of their diet as “poor”;
  • almost one-and-a-half times (1.4) more likely to have eaten frozen meals or pizza five or more times during the previous month;
  • almost two times (1.9) more likely to report “very low” or “low” food security;
  • almost one-and-a-half times (1.4) more likely to not use public food assistance despite being eligible; and
  • one-and-a-half times as likely (1.5) to report someone else in their household as the primary shopper or meal planner.

“We hope the findings of this study will increase awareness among health care professionals about the importance of evaluating and discussing diet and diet-related issues with their patients and patients’ family members. We also hope these results stimulate more research on this topic since there is so little available,” said Deierlein.

“For the first time to my knowledge, researchers evaluated disability status as an indicator of whether or not individuals had a healthy diet. Unfortunately, the women with disabilities reported lower diet quality, more food insecurity and also lower physical activity levels,” said Donna K. Arnett, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., B.S.N., a past president of the American Heart Association and dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. “These findings have important implications for public health and clinical practice because almost one in four young adults in America have some form of disability.”

The researchers noted several important limitations to the study, including that NHANES is a cross-sectional study and that most data were self-reported by the study participants. Information about disability cause or severity were not detailed. The study’s sample size was limited, and researchers could not examine associations of diet by specific disability type. Additionally, information about diet was based on recall of food and beverage intake from the previous day.

Co-authors are Jacqueline Litvak, M.P.H., and Cheryl R. Stein, Ph.D. Authors’ disclosures are listed in the abstract.

No funding was reported for this study.

Additional resources:

Statements and conclusions of studies that are presented at the American Heart Association’s scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the Association’s policy or position. The Association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The Association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific Association programs and events. The Association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and biotech companies, device manufacturers and health insurance providers and the Association’s overall financial information are available here.

The American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2021 is a premier global exchange of the latest scientific advancements, research and evidence-based clinical practice updates in cardiovascular science for health care professionals worldwide. The 3-day meeting will feature more than 500 sessions focused on breakthrough cardiovascular basic, clinical and population science updates in a fully virtual experience Saturday, November 13 through Monday, November 15, 2021. Thousands of leading physicians, scientists, cardiologists, advanced practice nurses and allied health care professionals from around the world will convene virtually to participate in basic, clinical and population science presentations, discussions and curricula that can shape the future of cardiovascular science and medicine, including prevention and quality improvement. During the three-day meeting, attendees receive exclusive access to more than 4,000 original research presentations and can earn Continuing Medical Education (CME), Continuing Education (CE) or Maintenance of Certification (MOC) credits for educational sessions. Engage in Scientific Sessions 2021 on social media via #AHA21.

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a leading force for a world of longer, healthier lives. With nearly a century of lifesaving work, the Dallas-based association is dedicated to ensuring equitable health for all. We are a trustworthy source empowering people to improve their heart health, brain health and well-being. We collaborate with numerous organizations and millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, advocate for stronger public health policies, and share lifesaving resources and information. Connect with us on, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.


For Media Inquiries and AHA Expert Perspective:

AHA Communications & Media Relations in Dallas: 214-706-1173;

Will Westmoreland:, 214-706-1232

For Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721) and