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CDC Links Obesity, Arthritis, and Lack of Exercise

Obese adults with arthritis are 44% more likely to be physically inactive than obese people who do not suffer from the painful disease that causes inflammation and stiffness of the joints, the CDC says in a new report.

May 19, 2011 -- Obese adults with arthritis are 44% more likely to be physically inactive than obese people who do not suffer from the painful disease that causes inflammation and stiffness of the joints, the CDC says in a new report.

According to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for May 20, arthritis is common in adults who are obese. And arthritis-related joint pain may reduce or discourage physical activity among obese adults, the report says.

The report says arthritis affects 35.6% of obese adults in the U.S. and that it may be a "potential barrier" that prevents the exercise that could lead to weight loss and help make people feel better.

The CDC calls for more self-management, education, and physical activity programs for adults with arthritis.

The CDC report is based on survey data from the 2007 and 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from 50 states, Washington, D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It says 9.3% of respondents had both obesity and arthritis, while 16.9% had obesity only and about 17% had arthritis only.

The report also found that:

  • Women were more likely to have both arthritis and obesity or arthritis only.
  • Older age was a risk factor for a higher prevalence of both arthritis and obesity.
  • Non-Hispanic blacks had a significantly higher prevalence of both obesity and arthritis compared to other ethnic groups.
  • Non-Hispanic whites had a significantly higher prevalence of arthritis only.
  • Higher education levels were associated with a lower prevalence of obesity and arthritis, obesity alone, and arthritis alone.

The CDC says the prevalence of physical inactivity was highest among those with both arthritis and obesity at 22.7%, compared with 16.1% for those with arthritis only and 13.5% with obesity only.

According to the CDC, 50 million Americans have arthritis and 72 million are obese; about one in three adults with obesity also has arthritis.

The agency says doctors and other health care providers who recommend physical activity for weight loss and weight maintenance should ask patients about symptoms of arthritis, such as pain and functional limitations, and then devise appropriate exercise regimens for them.

Low-Impact Exercise

The CDC says low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, and biking are generally safe and appropriate for people with obesity and arthritis and can help with weight loss as well as reducing joint pain.

The CDC also says that in a study of adults with osteoarthritis, people with a combined diet and exercise program lost more weight than people in a comparison group and also reported less pain and better physical functioning.

The CDC examination of state-by-state data found that among adults with obesity, physical inactivity for those with arthritis ranged from 14.3% in Wisconsin to 38.8% in Tennessee.

In all states examined, physical inactivity prevalence was at least five percentage points higher among adults with obesity and arthritis compared with people of the same age with obesity only, the CDC says.

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