As obesity becomes more prevalent, are we seeing an increase in arthritis?

The obesity epidemic is harming the health of millions of adults and children. According to Trust for American’s Health, “Two-thirds of adults are overweight, and nearly one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese.” Our home state of Tennessee currently is ranked as second for the number of obese and overweight adults in the United States.

Excess weight increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis and worsens it once it is established. Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease, is a group of mechanical abnormalities involving degradation of joints, cartilage and bone. Symptoms may include joint pain, tenderness, stiffness and locking of the joints. Arthritis is the most common cause of disability. Causes of osteoarthritis can range from genetics, age, weight and previous injury to occupational hazards, high-level sports, illness or infection.

There currently are an estimated 50 million Americans with arthritis, and that number is expected to increase to approximately 67 million by 2030.

The percentage of osteoarthritis cases linked to obesity has risen from 3 percent in 1971 to 18 percent in 2002. An obese individual is 60 percent more likely to develop arthritis than someone of normal weight.

Excess weight puts additional stress on joints causing cartilage to break down more quickly.

According to Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, director of joint replacement research at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, “If you’re 50 pounds overweight, you’re putting around 250 pounds of increased stress across your knees and hips.” Westrich also says that, “For every pound people lose, they lose three pounds of stress across their knee and six pounds of stress on their hip.”

Overweight and obese patients in all age groups represent the highest proportion for knee replacement surgeries related to arthritis. We also are seeing an increase in arthritis among our children due to being overweight. Developing bones and cartilage are not strong enough to support extra weight, and this can result in pain and limited range of motion. Overweight children are more likely to have knee and hip replacements as adults.

Osteoarthritis not only affects the weight-bearing joints of overweight individuals but their hands, as well. Overweight individuals are typically diagnosed more frequently with osteoarthritis of the hands. Researchers believe that a metabolic factor associated with obesity accelerates cartilage breakdown, or that adipose (fatty) tissue could cause the release of an endocrine factor that affects the joints.

Maintaining a healthy weight is the key to not only preventing arthritis but many other illnesses, as well. To help prevent arthritis, maintain a healthy weight and exercise on a regular basis. To maintain a healthy weight, consume smaller portion sizes and decrease carbohydrate and fat intake while increasing activity. Strengthening and stretching exercises, in addition to cardiovascular activity, is especially beneficial. Weight-bearing exercises are known to preserve bone health and bone density. A prior warm-up and stretch can help decrease the risk of joint damage.

For more information on reaching a healthy weight and managing your diabetes, call the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center at 865-977-5767.

Dawn Hollaway is a registered nurse, certified diabetes educator and program coordinator for the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center.

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