Researchers at Dublin City University have found that participants in Special Olympics programmes report a better quality of life than people with intellectual disabilities who have not taken part in them.

However, the study also highlights that 75% of  respondents who had disabilities were overweight or obese.

The research found that participants in Special Olympics clubs throughout Ireland are more active, physically fitter and have a greater sense of well-being.

Their involvement also had a positive impact on their families who cite a growth in their social network and an increased sense of family pride.

292 people participated in the research of which 146 were primary participants (101 Special Olympics athletes and 45 non-Special Olympics athletes) and 146 were  principal family carers.

But despite the positive outcomes, the study also found that reliance on care-givers - very often elderly parents - and a lack of transport options mean some people with intellectual disabilities cannot access Special Olympics programmes.

The study found that  of the 131 disabled respondents who had disabilities and who  filled in food diaries, 75% were overweight or obese.

The authors found there was no statistical difference between athletes and non-athletes in terms of body mass index or waist circumference measurements.

The report recommends that healthcare professionals working with people with intellectual disabilities should monitor the issue.

It also highlights the benefits of continuing to support the existing Special Olympics Healthy Athlete programme.

Overall, the report recommends continued investment in and support for Special Olympics in addition to finding solutions to removing barriers to participation. The study found that the net present value (expenditure plus monetary value of benefits) of Special Olympics programmes was €4.5 million.

The SOPHIE research project (Special Olympics Programmes Health Impact Evaluation) was led by DCU's School of Nursing and Human Sciences in collaboration with the School of Health and Human Performance, DCU, the University of York, and the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queen's University Belfast.