Obesity Effects Arthritis

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2009) estimate that 46 million adult Americans suffer from some form of arthritis. While the exact relationship between obesity and arthritis remains unclear, evidence suggests that arthritis, weight gain and lack of physical activity are related.

Obesity and Arthritis - Effects of Obesity

Arthritis, Weight Gain and Obesity

Arthritis rates increase with higher body weights. According to the CDC (2009), overweight individuals are more likely to report doctor-diagnosed arthritis than normal weight or underweight individuals, and that rates of arthritis increase even more among the obese:

Weight Range Rates of Doctor-Diagnosed Arthritis
Normal weight/underweight 16 percent
Overweight 21.7 percent
Obese 30.6 percent

Several theories attempt to explain the relationship between arthritis, weight gain and obesity. For instance, extra weight puts pressure on the joints, potentially damaging joints or worsening arthritis symptoms. Although this makes logical sense, it only explains the relationship between obesity and arthritis in weight-bearing joints, such as the knees. There also seems to be a correlation between obesity and arthritis in joints such as the hands, which aren’t weight-bearing.

Obesity may cause circulatory problems that increase the risk of arthritis in non-weight-bearing joints. Another theory examines the relationship between “inflammatory mediators,” substances produced by fat tissue that may increase the risk of inflammation and trigger or worsen arthritis symptoms.

Weight Loss, Arthritis and Obesity

Overweight or obese individuals may reduce their risk of arthritis by losing weight. According to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center (1988), obese women have four times the risk of knee osteoarthritis as their non-obese counterparts. This risk is even higher for overweight men, who are five times more at risk than normal-weight males.

On a more positive note, Johns Hopkins reports that weight loss significantly reduces the risk of knee osteoarthritis. Weight loss also reportedly reduces pain in knee osteoarthritis sufferers — losing only 11 pounds can reduce a woman’s risk of knee arthritis by 50 percent.

Exercise and Arthritis

Exercise and arthritis are also related, or perhaps more accurately, a lack of exercise and arthritis. According to the CDC (2009), 44 percent of adults with diagnosed arthritis report no physical activity during leisure time.

This organization also reports that exercise reduces arthritis symptoms. Older knee osteoarthritis sufferers can reduce the risk of arthritis-caused disability by 47 percent simply by engaging in moderate exercise at least three days a week.

Arthritis ranks as the most common cause of disability in the United States. Moderate weight loss and increased physical activity may greatly improve quality of life of people at risk of arthritis.


Arthritis Today. (n.d.). Obesity can reduce chance of RA remission. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from http://www.arthritis.org/obesity-can-reduce-chance-of-remission-ra.php.

Bartlett, S. (n.d.). Osteoarthritis weight management. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from http://www.hopkins-arthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/osteoandweight.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Arthritis related statistics. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis_related_stats.htm.

Science News. (2010). Obesity and physical inactivity poses arthritis risk, especially for women. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100225082438.htm.