Trends in Medical Conditions and Functioning in the U.S. Population, 1997–2017

Trends in Medical Conditions and Functioning in the U.S. Population, 1997–2017

Published: Apr 01, 2021
Publisher: Disability and Health Journal, vol. 14, issue 2


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.


We address two research questions: (1) How has the prevalence of certain potentially disabling conditions changed among working-age adults over the last two decades? and (2) Among individuals with these conditions, how has the share who report particular functional limitations changed over time?


We use nationally representative survey data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) to document regression adjusted population trends since 1997 in some of the most commonly disabling chronic conditions and functional limitations among adult disability beneficiaries.


We find that the prevalence of several conditions has increased in the U.S. population – most notably, obesity, endocrine conditions, and neoplasms. We also find notable changes in functional limitations. Hearing and vision limitations declined, while adults experienced increases in cognitive, social, and movement limitations. Alongside these long-term trends we find some evidence that reporting of conditions and limitations is countercyclical with the business cycle.


These changes in condition prevalence and functional limitations are consistent with some but not all documented changes in the federal disability rolls. Increases in social limitations are consistent with the perception that Americans are increasingly socially isolated.

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