Healthy Athletes

Special Olympics Healthy Athletes screening programs are designed to help people with intellectual disabilities who have unique healthcare issues and communication needs. These screenings help individuals with intellectual disabilities to realize and express their health concerns. The program also trains healthcare professionals who have not had received specific training, or are not familiar with this population, to learn the best questions and techniques in order to draw out issues and find solutions for athletes.

International Special Olympics research has found that people with intellectual disabilities have a 40 percent higher risk for health issues than the general population and that only one in 50 primary care physicians have received clinical training that qualifies them to treat people with intellectual disabilities. The professionals who lead Healthy Athletes screenings have received specific training to help them ask the right questions, and their interactions with Special Olympics athletes lead to referrals back into the health care system that ensures that individuals get the treatment they need.

Since the launch of Healthy Athletes in 1997, more than 1 million screenings have been offered free of charge to Special Olympics athletes around the world and more than 90,000 health care professionals have been trained about the health issues faced by people with intellectual disabilities. The program has grown to offer seven kinds of screenings:

  • Fit Feet (podiatry)
  • Fun Fitness (physical therapy)
  • Health Promotion (better health and well-being)
  • Healthy Hearing (audiology)
  • MedFest (sports physical exam)
  • Special Olympics-Lions Club International Opening Eyes (vision)
  • Special Smiles (dentistry)

In past years, SOBC athletes have been able to access Healthy Athletes screenings at Provincial and National Games. Today, SOBC holds standalone screening days to open the opportunities to a wider range of athletes, not just those who have qualified to compete in Games.

A 2011 wellness day demonstrated the acute need for the unique Healthy Athletes program. The screenings hosted by SOBC offered these revelations:

  • 75 percent of the athletes who participated had untreated gait abnormalities
  • More than 67 percent had skin or nail conditions in feet
  • Nearly 30 percent had eye disease
  • Just over 20 percent had mouth pain, missing teeth or bone deformations in their feet
  • Nearly 15 percent needed urgent dental referrals

All the screenings are conducted in a fun, friendly environment where athletes feel welcome and at ease. The screenings are conducted using quality equipment and fun tools to make the experience both valuable and enjoyable.

SOBC is working hard on athlete health initiatives such as the Healthy Athletes screenings because we know that if we can encourage individuals with an intellectual disability to become healthier, health costs will decrease, and their physical abilities, athletic performances and overall quality of life will improve. We are working to involve more individuals with an intellectual disability in our programs on a year-round basis. On average, they need to be active more times per week and for longer periods of time. They need to be encouraged to eat better and to develop healthy lifestyle habits.

To that end, SOBC is expanding programs such as Club Fit, which helps athletes improve their overall fitness. More communities around the province are offering the program for their athletes, and more resources will be available online for athletes to implement these lessons and tools in their daily lives. SOBC is also developing a fitness tracking tool to help attain measurable results for athletes across the province.


Information provided by Special Olympics BC