Ms Kathleen Lynch, TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People, attended the launch of Special Olympics Ireland’s research report on health promotion on Tuesday 2 October 2012. The report, The development and evaluation of a health promotion programme for people with intellectual disabilities detailed a pilot health promotion project which was created by Special Olympics Ireland.
Research has shown that 68% of people with an intellectual disability have a BMI in the overweight/obese category. The aim of this programme was to develop, pilot and evaluate a user-friendly health promotion resource pack which could be delivered in community-based Special Olympics clubs and intellectual disability services. The report details the findings of the programme which was initiated in 2008 to help address the lack of health promotion resources for people with an intellectual disability in Ireland.
The Resource Pack was developed in consultation with Special Olympics athletes, volunteers and family members. It covers the most pertinent health needs of people with intellectual disabilities, including nutrition, physical activity and heart and bone health.
Statutory and non-statutory organisations collaborated in the development of the resource. Health knowledge and behaviour questionnaires were administered to the 286 participants at the start of the pilot, in order to establish a baseline, and again on completion of the programme. The results showed a statistically significant increase in health knowledge and health behaviours—most notably a 48% increase in the numbers of participants meeting the recommended daily intake of five portions of fruit and vegetables.
Qualitative data were gathered through questionnaires and focus groups conducted with participants, volunteers, services staff and family members. The feedback from the participants indicated that the user-friendly nature of the pack ensured that the participants were more inclined to follow its direction. It was evident that by relating the importance of health to sport, the participants felt more encouraged to make a health change.
Speaking at the project report launch, Minster of State Kathleen Lynch said: ‘I am delighted to hear such positive findings arising from this pilot programme. It is wonderful to hear how much of a difference it has already made to the participants in such a relatively short period of time. If this programme shows us anything, it is that health and sport go hand in hand and that positive lifestyle changes are important and beneficial to us all. I would like to congratulate everyone involved and encourage the participants to keep up the good work!’
Dr Nazih Eldin, Head of Health Promotion Dublin North East, Health Service Executive, said: ‘The HSE welcomes this initiative which aims at reducing health inequalities for Special Olympics athletes in Ireland. It is great to see that an effective, evidence-based and targeted programme was developed in collaboration and cooperation of so many different experts, parents and people with intellectual disability. The HSE is hoping that this model will achieve all its goals and that the benefit will be shared by everyone in Ireland.’
Matt English, CEO Special Olympics Ireland, said:’The publication of this report is hugely significant for Special Olympics Ireland. We are delighted to see the positive impact that the introduction of this programme has made, not only to our athletes who participated in it, but also their families. The findings are hugely encouraging to us and once again affirm our promise of enriching and enhancing the lives of people with an intellectual disability in Ireland. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who played a part in making the initial pilot programme such a success, particularly the HSE Dublin North East.’
Two Special Olympics athletes who participated in the pilot programme (Carol Nairn from Waterford and Lynn Conroy from Dublin) were interviewed at the launch, along with their mothers Carmel Nairn and Kay Conroy. During their interview the athletes spoke about how they used the resource to help them to keep a track on the types of food they eat and how much water they were consuming every day. They both said that they found the resource pack very easy to use and that making and adopting healthy choices was not too difficult. Their parents both agreed that being part of this pilot programme was very worthwhile, and not only did it have a positive effect on the athletes, but also on the rest of their families.