Health promotion and cancer prevention activities do not receive the attention they need in learning disability services.

healthy diet

40 residential staff from 15 residential facilities completed a questionnaire about their knowledge of the risk and protective factors of stomach, breast, cervical and testicular cancer. They also completed questionnaires regarding 90 adults with learning disabilities to record details about:

  • body mass index (BMI)
  • lifestyle choices relating to health, e.g. diet, smoking etc
  • testing for Helicobacter pylori
  • any information on family history of cancer
  • any activities the staff were undertaking in relation to health promotion and cancer prevention.

The study found that women had significantly higher BMIs than men. Despite H. Pylori being a significant risk factor for development of stomach cancer, only two people been tested for the H. pylori infection.

Most staff reported they had not had training in cancer prevention and were unaware of the family histories of the people they supported.

The authors conclude from this small scale study that health promotion and cancer prevention activities are not receiving the attention they require and suggest that staff training about the early signs and symptoms of cancer and the importance of a healthy lifestyle is needed.

Cancer prevention and health promotion for people with intellectual disabilities: an exploratory study of staff knowledge, Hanna, L et al, in Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 55: 281–291.

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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