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Ailments linked to obesity: add arthritis

October 25, 2008 |  7:00 pm

When knees and hips are forced to carry around extra body poundage day after day, year after year, it takes a toll. The first and largest study examining the association between overweight, body mass and osteoarthritis, the most Knee2 common form of arthritis usually affecting middle-age and older people, found that overweight people are more likely to suffer the pain of arthritis in their hips and knees as they age.

The research, led by Dr. Stefan Lohmander, professor of orthopedics at Lund University in Lund, Sweden, measured the body mass, waist, waist-to-hip ratio, weight and percentage of body fat in about 28,000 men and women ages 45 to 73. They also adjusted for other risk factors, such as age, sex, smoking history and level of physical activity. The study was presented Sunday at the American College of Rheumatology annual scientific meeting in San Francisco.

They found that of all the factors, a higher body mass index was the highest risk factor for developing painful arthritis in the hips or knees. Body mass index is a calculation of body fat by using height and weight, and you can calculate yours at this National Institutes of Health site.

“[Being] overweight is one of the few factors leading to osteoarthritis that we can actually do something about,” Lohmander said in a news release. “Understanding the connection between being overweight and getting osteoarthritis, and the size of the risk, is therefore important when considering disease prevention. We have shown that the risk increase starts already with being moderately overweight, and increases with each further increase in body mass. This is true for men and for women, and for knees and for hips.”

Those extra pounds, it seems, accelerate the progressive damage done to the cartilage around joints. The damage can lead to fluid accumulation, bony overgrowth, and loosening and weakness of muscles and tendons around the joints. It's not surprising that it hurts enough to limit movement.

The study was done in Sweden, where the incidence of obesity is far less than in the U.S. Here in America, we ought to add arthritis to the growing list of ailments -- heart disease, diabetes, some cancers -- that are linked to the obesity epidemic.

-- Susan Brink

Photo credit: Toby Maudsley / Getty Images