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Obesity Worsens Osteoarthritis Pain, Lowers Quality of Life in Older Americans



Obese older Americans who suffer from osteoarthritis will lose 86 million quality years of life when compared to people who do not suffer from either affliction, this is the conclusion of a study led by Elena Losina, associate professor of Brigham and Women's Hospital of Harvard University.

According to the report, which was published in the February 15 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, Losina and her colleagues looked at US Census and obesity data and created the Osteoarthritis Policy model to estimate the quality of life years lost due to osteoarthritis and obesity for Americans aged 50 - 84. The study yielded some alarming information that you should know about.


Findings of the Study

  • obesity and osteoarthritis lead to 86 million quality of life years lost
  •  Hispanics and black females are more severly affected by obesity and osteoarthritis
  • if obesity prevalence were reduced to the levels of 10 years ago, life expectancy would 7.8 million years quality adjusted years and quality of life would increase by 6.3 million years

What this means is that osteoarthritis, a disease which normally afflicts men and women over age 50 would be lessened if people were not obese. The researchers pointed out that reducing obesity would lead to a reduction cardiovascular disease, adult onset diabetes and even knee replacement surgeries.

Interestingly, this study brings to mind an Australian experiment which looked at the impact that exercise would have on the knee joint. Flavia Ciccutini and his team put 257 healthy adults aged 50 -79 through a series of activities of varied duration, frequency and intensity. They concluded that physical exercise actually strengthened the knee.

It's important to remember that the Australian researchers studied the effects of exercise on healthy people who didn't have joint problems. If obese people were to reduce their weight, it would improve their physical well-being. But instead of just focusing on obesity, it would also be a good idea to prevent arthritis in the first place.

Although walking and even some weight bearing exercise may help prevent osteoarthritis it these forms of exercise would be painful to people with severe joint pain. Excess weight puts stress on joints, and it becomes even more worrisome in the case of osteoarthritis (as Losina's study has found). So walking may not be the best form of physical activity for obese people with osteoarthritis. Swimming, on the other hand, is an excellent exercise for a number of reasons.

  1. Swimming doesn't cause undue joint stress.
  2. Swimming is aerobic, so it is good for the heart.
  3.  Water adds resistance so the muscles must do work to propel a person from one end of the pool to the other.   

The take home message is that obesity and osteoarthritis are painful conditions affecting millions of Americans. If people were to reduce their weight it would improve their health and quality of life.


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Article Reference

Losina et al: Impact of Obesity and Knee Osteoarthritis on Morbidity and Mortality in Older Americans. Annals of Internal Medicine. February 15 2011 154 (4): 217 - 226.


"Obesity Worsens Osteoarthritis Pain, Lowers Quality of Life in Older Americans" copyright © 2011 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.



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