Prevalence of learning disabilities and general health status


Prevalence of learning disabilities varies considerably between studies. People with learning disabilities experience health inequalities, but most studies comprise small or incomplete populations. We investigated in a whole country population (1) prevalence of learning disabilities, and age of identification, (2) general health status compared with the general population.

What we did

Data were from Scotland’s Census, 2011. We calculated the prevalence of learning disabilities by age; reported general health status of people with and without learning disabilities; and the extent of health-related limitations to daily activities. We conducted logistic regressions to determine the odds ratios of learning disabilities predicting poor general health, and the associations with age and gender. 

What we found

26,349/5,295,403 (0.5%) had learning disabilities; 15,149 (57.5%) males and 11,200 (42.5%) females; 5,234 (0.6%) children (0-15), and 21,115 (0.5%) adults (16-75+). Identification of learning disabilities rises until age 5 years, with a further small rise by age 9. Children and adults with learning disabilities reported poorer general health (47.9% and 40.3%), than the general population (2.1% and 13.8%), and were more limited in activities by their health. Learning disabilities had an odds ratio of 9.2 (95% CI: 8.9-9.4) in predicting poor general health. Within the learning disabilities population, it is not until after age 45 that the health-related effects of ageing outweigh the health-related effects of the most severe learning disabilities.

What these findings mean

People with learning disabilities have poorer general health than other people, especially children and young people. Accurate information on population prevalence and health status is essential to plan appropriate resources.

Link to publication

For further information on this research contact Laura Hughes-McCormack

Page updated 25 August 2020