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Special Olympics International Increasing Athlete Healthcare Funding with SPSS Predictive Analytics


Insufficient evidence is often one reason not-for-profit organizations struggle to raise money, influence public policy and build strategic collaborations. That’s why Special Olympics International relies on Predictive Analytics software from SPSS Inc. (Nasdaq: SPSS) to analyze data collected on athlete health worldwide to build a case for improved government policies, increased funding and new partnerships.

Special Olympics is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition. With over 2.8 million athletes in more than 180 countries around the world, the impact of Special Olympics is truly global.

The breadth of Special Olympics puts the organization in a very unique position to influence policies and create opportunities in all corners of the world, and the need for reliable data and information to present to governments and leaders around the world is critical.

In a study[1] conducted in 2003, researchers discovered that most people assume the quality of healthcare for people with intellectual disabilities is the same or better than that received by the general population. The reality, documented by data collected and analyzed by Special Olympics and SPSS Predictive Analytics software, is that this population receives poor access to quality healthcare and experiences significant health disparities relative to the general population.

To improve Special Olympics athletes’ access to healthcare, the organization created an initiative called “Healthy Athletes,” which provides free vision, dental, hearing, podiatric, physical fitness, bone density, Body Mass Index (BMI), and nutrition screenings at Special Olympics events.

The organization chose SPSS Predictive Analytics software for its ease of use and efficiency to collect and analyze screening data at Healthy Athletes events and then to create value from the information for policy and fund-raising efforts.

For example, when analyzing data from its past three World Games, Special Olympics found that 44 percent of athletes had obvious untreated tooth decay. At the same World Games, Special Olympics assessed visual acuity in the athlete population and found that 26 percent of athletes needed new glasses. Data such as these are compelling to corporate and foundation partners, whose subsequent support has allowed Special Olympics to provide more than 50,000 pair of prescription glasses to athletes.

Darcie Mersereau, senior manager of research and evaluation at Special Olympics International, said, “SPSS Predictive Analytics software supports our mission to act as advocates for our athletes by allowing Special Olympics to make a solid case for improved quality and access to healthcare for populations worldwide. We are able to demonstrate that these findings are not unique to individuals, but rather shared by athletes all over the world.”

SPSS Predictive Analytics software enables the organization to understand connections on data related to how various health circumstances may serve as indicators of the possible presence of other conditions. For example, how low bone density may also be an indication of future hearing loss. Using this information, Special Olympics is able to more appropriately guide athletes through Healthy Athletes screening avenues.

Mersereau continued, “With our analysis completed with SPSS software, Special Olympics can validate the need for increased focus on this issue as we’re able to inform a multitude of opinion leaders, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and government officials on the need for improved healthcare, gain program support and inform public policy.”

For instance, in 2001, the organization deployed SPSS Predictive Analytics software to analyze data from Healthy Athletes events and presented the findings to the U.S. Senate. This hearing resulted in the release of a report from the Office of the Surgeon General[2], and led to an initial appropriation to fund the Healthy Athletes screening program of $2.4 million in 2002.

Appropriations have continued to increase in subsequent years: in 2008 Healthy Athletes will receive more than $5.4 million from Congress via the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund Healthy Athletes events.

Jack Noonan, SPSS chairman, president and CEO, said, “By using SPSS Predictive Analytics, commercial, government and not-for-profit organizations can easily and quickly analyze data and receive specific, real-time recommendations on the most appropriate action in order to achieve business objectives. We are honored to partner with the Special Olympics to validate the need for stronger athlete healthcare programs.”

[1]by University of Massachusetts Boston in collaboration with Special Olympics

[2]U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Public Health Service; Office of the Surgeon General report[2], "Closing the Gap: A National Blueprint to Improve the Health of Persons with Mental Retardation


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