One in 12 Australian adults are now living with osteoarthritis. Could obesity be behind the increase?

HB_osteoarthritis explained

Millions of Australians are suffering from joint pain as a result of osteoarthritis, one of Australia’s most common health concerns. And according to the latest data the number of Aussies living with osteoarthritis is on the rise.

New data from the Medibank Better Health Index, which surveys 1,000 Australians each week shows almost 1 in 12 Australians (8.2%) are living with osteoarthritis, an increase from 6.3% ten years ago.

The data also indicates the increase is more pronounced amongst women, where the incidence of osteoarthritis has increased from 8.6% to 11.4% in the same period.

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Could obesity be playing a role?

The findings show the percentage of Australians with osteoarthritis has grown in line with the national trend towards obesity. The data found 28% of Australians now fall into the obese body mass index (BMI) category, compared to just 25% in 2007/08.

Worryingly, this figure is even higher for those with osteoarthritis, with 43% of sufferers now considered obese.

Commenting on the rise, Professor Kim Bennell from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Physiotherapy said: “Rates of Osteoarthritis have jumped in a decade with more women than ever suffering. It can be very painful and debilitating and a significant risk factor is being overweight - which makes osteoarthritis largely preventable.”

Read more: How diet can help with osteoarthritis

Tips for preventing and managing osteoarthritis

While osteoarthritis is more common as you age, it’s not an inevitable fact of life. In fact there are a number of things you can do to prevent or manage the symptoms of the condition.

  • Keep moving, safely: Exercise is vital in both the prevention and management of osteoarthritis, as it helps strengthen muscles and joints. However, be sure to exercise sensibly as overdoing it can cause injury and put strain on joints. If you’re in pain, speak to a physiotherapist about tailoring the right exercise program for your needs.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity is one of the leading causes of osteoarthritis, due to the added stress it places on the body. Therefore, it’s important to follow a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Protect your joints: Joint injuries like fractures, dislocations and even ligament tears and strains can increase the risk of osteoarthritis. Use protective wear when playing sports, and the proper techniques for lifting and carrying things.

Read more about how your cover can help you to manage osteoarthrtis, or visit our osteoarthritis collection for the latest research, insights, prevention and management tips.