Former Olympian is helping people with intellectual and physical disabilities fight obesity

Frank Mensah is a first-generation Ghanaian-American who represented Ghana at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga. After retiring from track, the Olympian and four-time All-American decided to put her thirty-plus years of fitness and nutrition experience to use. To improve the mental and physical life of people with disabilities.

Mr Mensah sits down in an interview to discuss how he is doing his part to improve the health and lives of the disabled community. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


According to the CDC and the National Center for Health Statistics, more than one-third of adults in the United States, or 72 million people, are considered obese. The number of adults and children with intellectual or physical limitations is significantly higher than that of able-bodied individuals of the same age. 20% of children aged 10–17 with a mental or physical impairment are considered “obese”, compared to 15% of able-bodied children in the same age range. A report by the CDC states that obesity not only affects one’s health, but also leads to additional medical expenses of approximately $1,429 per person annually. Those costs are significantly higher for those with intellectual and physical limitations.

(b) For culture: What sparked your desire to do this work?

Frank Mensah: I have been a personal trainer for over twenty years with my company ‘Olympic Fit’ and after meeting my now friend Diane Campione, she inspired me to use my talents to help adults, teenagers and children with disabilities. encouraged for. I immediately started researching and eventually created the ‘Victory Program’ for all categories of mental and physical abilities to help improve their overall health and quality of life. This program is community based and open to the public that provides services to ambulatory, ambulatory and non-ambulatory individuals.

get to the root

Research linking the root causes of obesity and different disabilities is limited. Scientific investigation of this complex relationship needs to be further explored and supported. Most scientific research in this area examines the relationship between obesity and disability, not vice versa. Both the CDC and the AAHD identified similar causes of obesity among neurodivergent and nonambulatory people, including:

  • lack of access to healthy food
  • medications that contribute to changes in appetite, weight loss, or weight gain
  • Lack of accessible environments (eg, sidewalks, parks, and exercise equipment) that enable exercise.
  • difficulty chewing or swallowing food, or the taste or texture of food
  • Lack of resources (for example, money, transportation, and social support from family, friends, neighbors, and community members).
  • Lack of accessible environments (eg, sidewalks, parks, and exercise equipment) that enable exercise.

Frank is using his knowledge and connections to address some of the above causes:

(b) For culture: What is the root cause of the high obesity rates within neurodivergent, ambulatory and non-ambulatory communities?

Frank Mensah: It comes down to the drug, metabolism, and whether the person is ambulatory or non-ambulatory. Movement is key to health no matter how you do it, and it’s something many of us take for granted.

(b) For culture: What other ways are you making an impact in the neurodiversity field?

Frank Mensah: Recently I have partnered with three other entrepreneurs (Maria and George Casale, and Diane Campione) in Staten Island to create ‘The Fusion Program’, a 4,800 square foot center in Dongan Hills. We’re offering classes in Technology, Coding, Fitness, Cooking, Gaming, Socializing, and other STEM and non-STEM related subjects.

While there is room for more research on this topic, some people are leading the effort. An academic paper by the University of Hertfordshire suggests four major traditional approaches for obese people with intellectual and physical limitations. Focusing on increasing dietary intake, energy expenditure, health promotion and education with a multidisciplinary team working with the individual.

addressing and respecting diversity

When addressing ways to improve the health and well-being of people with disabilities, we cannot ignore the vast diversity within the disability community. Forbes contributor Andrew Pulerang outlines four ways to diversify the disability community, including:

  1. type of disability
  2. Personal History of the Person with Disability
  3. overlapping identities and experiences
  4. paradigm and discipline

To understand this topic in depth read his in-depth article on this topic here.

Forbes the Culture: How will you ensure that each person’s experience and disability is recognized and catered for? Do you group everyone in a general way?

Frank Mensah: No, not at all! I completely understand that not everyone is monolithic nor do they share the same experiences with their circumstances. When my team and I interact with our customers, we tailor our entire conversation and experience to that person. Most of the time our client’s guardian, parent or caretaker informs us how to address them and their situations. We respect everyone as a unique individual who is trying to improve their lives in some way and help them become productive members of society.

If you want to help a family or community member with an intellectual or physical limitation there are ways you can help and some things to consider. Your loved one’s health is a multidisciplinary effort involving collaboration with the patient, their primary carer, general practitioner, practice nurse, dietitian, speech and language therapist, and essential psychology and psychotherapy input from local learning disability services. This approach allows for a streamlined schedule. The person’s consent as well as his mental and physical capacity to receive assistance must be taken into account. Laws and procedures are in place to ensure the welfare of persons with disabilities and to protect their rights. You can contact a community disability nurse who has had appropriate training or local and government disability services for additional guidance.


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