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Trends in Medical Conditions and Functioning in the U.S. Population, 1997-2017
Over the last several decades, the federal disability rolls grew substantially, though this growth has slowed more recently. Many factors underlie these trends, including changes in demographics, policies, and disability prevalence. In this study, we use nationally representative survey data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) to document trends since 1997 in the most commonly disabling chronic conditions and functional limitations. We find that the prevalence of several conditions has increased in the U.S. population – most notably, obesity, endocrine conditions, and neoplasms among adults, and autism, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and skin conditions among children. We also find notable changes in functional limitations. Although hearing and vision limitations declined, adults experienced increases in cognitive, social, and movement limitations, and children experienced an increase in school limitations. These changes in condition prevalence and functional limitations are consistent with some but not all observed changes in the federal disability rolls. An understanding of these trends can be helpful in planning for future demand of disability benefits.