Obesity Plus Arthritis Disabling for Older Women

Osteoarthritis plus overweight greatly lessens an older woman’s ability to get around without help, a new study finds.

Researchers at the U.S. National Institute on Aging and the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore analyzed 199 women, aged 70 to 79, with lower extremity osteoarthritis who had no mobility problems at the start of the study. They were compared to 140 women in the same age group who did not have arthritis in the knees or hips. Both groups of women were evaluated at the start of the study for mobility and arthritis, and then again at 18, 36 and 72 months later.

The women with osteoarthritis were more likely to report having pain most days and greater pain severity while walking and climbing stairs, the researchers reported in the April issue of Arthritis Care & Research. The team also found that 26 percent of the women with osteoarthritis were obese, compared to 11 percent of the women without the disorder.

During the study, women with osteoarthritis were 2.5 times more likely to develop difficulty in both lower extremity mobility and in activities of daily living than the women without joint trouble.

The findings are particularly relevant in light of the growing number of older Americans and increasing rates of obesity among all age groups in the United States.

“The trends toward earlier onset of obesity observed between 1991 and 1998 would predictably translate into a higher proportion of adults who could develop painful symptoms and mobility difficulty at an earlier age,” the authors wrote.