21 February 2009

Healthy Athletes

For more than 10 years, Special Olympics has been serving athletes by offering free health screenings and health information at local, regional and World Games. In the process, Special Olympics has become the largest global public health organization dedicated to serving people with intellectual disabilities.

An athlete gets his hearing tested at a Healthy Athletes event. Healthy Hearing is one of seven health screenings Special Olympics provides to its athletes.
By listening to athletes at events and conducting research over many years, Special Olympics leaders became aware of the lack of quality health care for people with intellectual disabilities and found it unacceptable. We found that people with intellectual disabilities have a 40 percent greater risk for health issues, and that health care professionals are not trained in or experienced with caring for people with intellectual disabilities.

Called into action, we began to explore ways to help using Special Olympics’ unique global reach and access to people with intellectual disabilities. The result was the launch of the Healthy Athletes® initiative in 1997. Today, Healthy Athletes provides health screenings free of charge at Special Olympics competitions. Offered in a welcoming, fun environment, these screenings educate athletes on healthy lifestyle choices and identify problems that may need additional follow-up.

Healthy Athletes currently offers health screenings in seven areas: Fit Feet (podiatry), FUNFitness (physical therapy), Health Promotion (better health and well-being), Healthy Hearing (audiology), MedFest (sports physical exam), Opening Eyes (vision) and Special Smiles (dentistry).

Through a global team of health-care volunteers, Healthy Athletes works to improve access and health care for Special Olympics athletes; make referrals to local health practitioners when appropriate; train health care professionals and students about the needs and care of people with intellectual disabilities; collect, analyze and dessiminate data on the health status and needs of people with intellectual disabilities; and advocate for improved health policies and programs for people with intellectual disabilities.

Healthy Athletes has a presence in more than 100 countries. Its influence is evident with more than 76,000 healthcare professionals trained, free health screenings provided to more than 700,000 athletes, and 50,000 free pairs of eyeglasses given to athletes. And it is just beginning – Healthy Athletes continues to grow each year with help from a global network of volunteers, in-kind donations and other financial support.

For more information on Healthy Athletes, contact Karl Hejlik, Senior Manager, Health and Research Communciations, at +1 (202) 824-0308 or khejlik@specialolympics.org.

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