Posted on Aug 22, 2023, 11 p.m.
Most people incorrectly believe that arthritis isn’t something to worry about until they are much older, but a recent study found that 15% of the global population over the age of 30 have osteoarthritis; according to the study published in the journal The Lancet Rheumatology by researchers led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
The study also found that for those aged 70+ osteoarthritis is the seventh leading condition/cause for years that people live with a disability. Contributing factors for the development of this condition include but are not limited to obesity, population growth, and aging, with obesity playing a greater role over time as its rates continue to climb. Alarmingly, by 2050 projections are that 1 billion people will have osteoarthritis. If the global epidemic of obesity could be effectively addressed the researchers suggest that the osteoarthritis burden could be decreased by an estimated 20%.
“Physical activity is not only a preventive measure against injuries early in life but is also beneficial for those already experiencing joint pain. Contrary to what one might assume, having joint pain shouldn’t be a reason for remaining inactive,” says Dr. Liane Ong, a lead research scientist at IHME.
In 2020 obesity was responsible for an estimated 20% of the disability of osteoarthritis. The most common spots for osteoarthritis are the hands, hips, elbows, shoulders, and knees. By 2050 based on projections osteoarthritis of the knee could increase by 75%, osteoarthritis of the hand could increase by 50%, osteoarthritis of the hip could increase by 78%, and osteoarthritis of other places such as the elbows or shoulders could increase by 95%. Osteoarthritis appears to affect women more so than men, and there currently is no cure, but this study offers ways to rethink care and treatment to slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
This study analyzed 30 years of osteoarthritis data covering over 200 countries and was led by the IHME as part of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021. The researchers report that cases of osteoarthritis have rapidly increased over the past three decades due to 3 main factors: population growth, obesity, and aging. 256 million people had osteoarthritis in 1990, which increased to 595 million by 2020 representing a 132% increase, resulting in a projection approaching or exceeding the one billion mark by 2050.
“With the key drivers of people living longer and a growing world population, we need to anticipate stress on health systems in most countries,” explains Dr. Jaimie Steinmetz, the paper’s corresponding author and lead research scientist at IHME. “There is no effective cure for osteoarthritis right now, so it’s critical that we focus on strategies of prevention, early intervention, and making expensive, effective treatments like joint replacements more affordable in low- and middle-income countries.”
“The reasons for gender differences in osteoarthritis prevalence are being investigated, but researchers believe that genetics, hormonal factors, and anatomical differences play a role,” explains Dr. Jacek Kopek, senior author and professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia.
“Health care systems and governments have an opportunity to engage and participate in identifying vulnerable populations, addressing drivers of obesity, and developing management strategies to prevent or slow down the progression of osteoarthritis,” says Dr. Liane Ong, lead research scientist at IHME, who supervised and co-authored the study. “The role that physical inactivity plays in obesity and pain associated with osteoarthritis can have opposite and unintended negative cycles. For example, being physically active can prevent injuries earlier in life and can even be beneficial for someone with joint pain. It’s counterintuitive, but having joint pain doesn’t mean we should remain sedentary.”
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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