Childhood Obesity: Classification as an IDEA Disability


  • Ron French
  • Charlotte (Barney) Sanborn
  • Nancy DiMarco
  • Tammy L. Stephens


disability, childhood obesity, physical education, adapted physical education, response to intervention, physical fitness, nutrition education, behavior change


The objective of this article is to provide rationale for recognizing and evaluating children who are obese with low physical fitness or deficiencies in gross motor skills, as having a disability and able to receive appropriate programming. Childhood obesity can be a disabling in itself, and it should be considered a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 as an Other Health Impairment. This discussion of the literature will cover a variety of topics, including childhood obesity, federal mandates, particularly IDEA, and assessment and eligibility criteria for placement as a disability. Finally, a service delivery model, entitled Childhood Obesity Prevention and Intervention, is proposed to include childhood obesity as a component of the Other Health Impairment category. Childhood obesity is a major problem in the United States affecting 17% of children and adolescents between 2 and 19 years of age (Ogden, Carroll, Kit, & Flegal, 2014). The most effective programs involve the collaboration between the child, parents, school personnel, medical experts, and community agencies. Special education services provide the means for such collaboration. While physical activity is a critical component in most obesity prevention and intervention programs, the role of evidenced-based physical education curriculum is often ignored as part of the collaborative approach. Adapted physical education services through the application of the Response-to-Intervention (RTI) model could be an answer to this issue. It is recommended that children who are obese with significant low physical fitness or gross motor skill levels, impacting academic and functional performance, be eligible for accommodations in schools and/or alternative physical education services.






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