About 1 in 5 Americans say they are disabled

A resident of Key West Convalescent Center waits to be evacuated in preparation for Hurricane Ike in Key West, Florida September 7, 2008. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

CHICAGO (Reuters) - About 1 in 5 Americans have a disability and that will increase as baby boomers age, U.S. health officials said on Thursday.

The number of Americans with a disability rose 7.7 percent, or by 3.4 million people, to nearly 48 million between 1999 and 2005, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

“The number of adults reporting a disability likely will increase, along with the need for appropriate medical and public health services, as more persons enter the highest risk age group,” Dr. Chad Helmick, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote in the CDC’s weekly report on death and disease.

Helmick said meeting the expected increased demand of these people will require more and better interventions aimed at preventing disability.

Arthritis was the leading cause of disability, affecting 8.6 million people. Another 7.6 million Americans said back or spine problems were the main cause of their disability and 3 million people reported heart trouble.

Women were slightly more likely to be disabled than men at any age. The CDC also found that the number of people reporting a disability doubled for each successive age group, with about 11 percent of people ages 18-44 reporting a disability, 23.9 percent for ages 45-64, and 51.8 percent for ages 65 or older.

Dr. John H. Klippel, president and CEO of the Arthritis Foundation, said in a statement 46 million Americans have some form of arthritis.

“With the aging of baby boomers, the prevalence of arthritis is expected to rise by 40 percent - that is up to 67 million people -- by the year 2030,” he said.

“These findings suggest a critical need to expand the reach of effective strategies aimed at disability prevention and management,” Klippel said.

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen, editing by Vicki Allen