Arthritis and Obesity

The Centers for Disease Control recently released a map showing which counties in the United States had the highest rate of arthritis. William Heisel of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation thought he saw a strong similarity between the CDC map and his organization’s map of obesity rates by county.

Arkansas shows up strongly on both maps. While Northwest Arkansas shows a lower rate of arthritis and of obesity than other parts of the state, we’re higher than the national average on both. The CDC recommends that people in high-obesity areas work on that to reduce their chances of getting arthritis in the future.

Connections between arthritis and obesity

So do arthritis and obesity go together? The Arthritis Foundation says yes.

The Status of Arthritis

From Visually.

One connection between obesity and arthritis that’s easy to understand is the extra pressure that extra weight puts on the joints. A person who is 10 pounds overweight puts an extra 40 pounds of pressure on his knees. That extra stress leads to more damage in a shorter time than people would otherwise experience.

But there’s more. It seems that fat cells produce chemicals in the body that increase inflammation — and therefore increase the chances of developing certain forms of arthritis. Gout, a very painful type of arthritis that shows up most often in the big toe, is ten times as common in people who are obese as in people who maintain a normal weight. A study by the Mayo Clinic found a link between obesity and rheumatoid arthritis, too.

The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center reports that osteoarthritis is four to five times more common in people who are overweight or obese. Their research also finds that people who lose some weight — they suggest starting with 10% of body weight — are likely to reduce their chances of developing arthritis, or to reduce the pain they experience if they already have arthritis.

Taking action

Losing weight is not easy, but coping with arthritis is not easy, either. If you have arthritis, low-impact exercise like walking, biking, or swimming may make you feel better. Losing as little as 10 or 12 pounds can also make a difference, according to the CDC. Talk with your doctor about lifestyle changes that could reduce the pain of arthritis and make your medication more effective.

If you don’t have arthritis but it runs in your family, now is a good time to think about making lifestyle changes that can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight.