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Ulster University to empower young adults with disabilities to take control of their health

Dr Claire McDowell Dr Claire McDowell

Researchers from Ulster University and NUI Galway have been awarded €295,000 to develop a weight management model for young adults with intellectual disabilities.

It aims to decrease illness associated with obesity and empower these young adults to take control of their own health and wellbeing.

The new research is funded by the Marie Curie ASSISTID Fellowship and will be carried out by Ulster University's School of Psychology in partnership with NUI Galway. Researchers will work with young adults with intellectual disabilities over a three year period to examine their current eating and exercise habits and develop a model for self-managing healthy lifestyle choices.

Encouraging positive behavioural changes, the model will incorporate health education, goal setting, visual feedback and rewards. It will also explore the role of a smartphone app as assistive technology for weight management of those with disabilities.

Researcher Dr Claire McDowell from Ulster University said: "Ulster University will combine its world-leading expertise in behaviourial and health psychology with computing to create a comprehensive package of weight management that will be easily accessible to people with intellectual disabilities and support long-term positive behavioural changes.  

"People with intellectual disabilities are susceptible to being overweight or obese due to a limited understanding of health education, poor portion control, lack of independence to exercise without support from a parent or carer, as well as facing social barriers that prevent them from taking part in group sport.

"Research shows that health education is beneficial in the short-term by helping to inform those with intellectual disabilities about positive lifestyle choices. However, it has been proven to have little impact in helping to maintain these healthy attitudes long-term.

"The findings of this research will empower these young adults to take control of their health and become more independent. This will reduce illness associated with obesity, increase self-esteem and enhance their overall wellbeing."

The ASSISTID programme is co-funded by the charity RESPECT and the European Commission and is coordinated by RESPECT's research institute DOCTRID, a network of universities, service providers, and industry partners across Ireland, the US and the UK undertaking ground breaking research in intellectual disabilities and autism.