Bright Futures at Georgetown University
Bright Futures in Practice: Physical Activity


Children and adolescents with special health care needs have been defined as those "who have or are at increased risk for chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional conditions and who require health and related services of a type or amount beyond that required by children generally."1


Approximately 18 percent of children and adolescents in the United States have a chronic condition or disability.2 The most common causes are respiratory diseases and mental impairments. Disabilities are most prevalent among boys, older children, and children from families with low incomes and from single-parent families.3

Disability in children and adolescents results in approximately 66 million days of restricted activity annually, 26 million physician contacts, 24 million days lost from school, and 5 million days in the hospital.3

Childhood and adolescent mortality resulting from chronic conditions and disabilities is declining; therefore, the population of adults with a chronic condition or disability will continue to increase. In general, cardiovascular disease risk factors are appearing much earlier in children and adolescents, physical fitness in children and adolescents is steadily decreasing, and the prevalence of childhood and adolescent obesity is increasing. In children and adolescents with special health care needs, a sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increased risk of morbidity. Preventive strategies are needed to help these children and adolescents increase their physical activity levels, which will help increase the length and improve the quality of their lives.

Physical Activity Benefits

Children and adolescents with special health care needs benefit from regular physical activity. It can make the tasks of daily living easier for them, improve their health status, and ultimately reduce morbidity from secondary conditions during adulthood.

Physical activity for children and adolescents with special health care needs can4

  • Help control or slow the progression of the chronic condition or disability, minimize its side effects, and reduce associated disabilities.

  • Improve overall health and function.

  • Minimize the psychological and social impact of the condition or disability on children and adolescents and their families, and help normalize their daily living experiences.


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