Chronic joint disease taking its toll on younger Aussies
Osteoarthritis – a chronic disease more prevalent in older people – has doubled among Generation Y, X and Baby Boomers, according to new research released by Medibank today.
Based on data from the Medibank Better Health Index – which has interviewed approximately 1,000 Australians each week since 2007 – the incidence of osteoarthritis has increased from 0.7 per cent to 1.8 per cent among Gen Y, 1.9 per cent to 5.3 per cent among Gen X, and from 7.8 per cent up to 14.7 per cent among Baby Boomers.
Medibank Chief Medical Officer, Dr Linda Swan says that while osteoarthritis in these younger age groups could be connected to sport-induced trauma, exercise with poor biomechanics and repetitive knee injuries, as well as escalating national obesity levels are likely to be a contributor to the increased prevalence of joint issues in younger Australians.
Excess weight as a contributor
The Index shows that Aussies’ waistlines have continued to expand over the last eight years, particularly among Gen Y and X, where the number of those falling into the ‘obese’ BMI category has increased by 7.8 per cent1 and 6.1 per cent2 respectively.
“As a nation, we’re heavier than we were in 2007, and we can see this trend is particularly pronounced among younger generations, which may support the rise in osteoarthritis cases in these age groups. Excess weight has been found to put additional stress on joints which could lead to osteoarthritic symptoms such as joint stiffness, tenderness and swelling,” says Dr Swan.
Supporting this link, the Index found the average BMI for osteoarthritis sufferers was 29.31, higher than that of the general population, at just 27.30. Interestingly, Gen Xs suffering from osteoarthritis recorded the highest mean BMI across all generations, averaging 30.66. The average BMI for healthy weight range is 18.50 - 24.993.
Joint trauma as a result of physical activity
According to the Index, Aussies are adopting more active lifestyles, with the percentage of people choosing to regularly partake in physical activity increasing steadily over the last eight years.
Jogging, cycling and going to the gym/weight training are more popular than ever before. The percentage of those who jog for exercise has increased from 12.1 per cent in 2007 to 21.5 per cent in the latest Index. This trend is particularly pronounced among Gen Ys and Xs, with joggers increasing by 9.6 per cent and 7 per cent respectively over the same timeframe4.
“Participating in regular exercise is essential for staying fit and healthy. However, when joints are placed under pressure through repeated movements or high impact, it can lead to microtrauma and ligament injuries.
“Gen X have been at the forefront of the exercise and fitness trend over the past two decades – think personal training, group fitness and boot camps. Although that’s been positive for people’s fitness overall, the downside is that joint injuries – particularly in knees and hips – have been a proven side-effect, especially for those training without proper techniques or footwear to protect and stabilise joints,” says Dr Swan.
MOVE muscle, bone & joint health Chief Executive Officer_,_ Linda Martin says “the burden of this chronic joint disease is expected to increase over the coming decades due to an ageing and increasingly obese population, with prevalence expected to reach one in four Australians by 2040. It’s therefore essential that Aussies of all ages look after their health; maintain a healthy level of physical activity and protect themselves from injury, to avoid the early onset of osteoarthritis. It’s time to make a move to ensure safe exercise.”
The state of chronic conditions in Australia
Chronic illness is one of the biggest issues facing Australians, with one in two being affected by at least one condition5. The good news is that with the right treatment and care, chronic conditions like osteoarthritis can be successfully managed so that people living with it can go on to enjoy a decent quality of life.
Tips from Medibank on how to reduce the risk of osteoarthritis
- Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regime: While some repetitive and high-impact exercises can trigger the onset of osteoarthritis, exercise also acts as a preventative through its weight-loss effects and strengthening of important muscle groups. Just remember, it’s crucial to ensure you are using the correct techniques to limit excessive strain on your joints. Similarly, maintaining a healthy diet is key for ensuring you avoid placing added strain on the joints through excess weight.
- Wear appropriate and supportive footwear: Wearing high-heels, especially in combination with excess weight, may contribute to increased osteoarthritis risk. It’s been shown that wearing high heels can alter the way women walk, and the height of the heel changes the angle of women’s knees as their feet hit the ground, which increases strain on the joint.
- Protect your knees: Knee injury is extremely common and trauma in the area can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis. To protect your knees, it’s important you lose any excess weight you might be carrying, and avoid injury by exercising sensibly. Keeping muscles strong -- particularly the quadriceps -- can also help by reducing strain on the knee.
Medibank is working with governments, GPs and industry partners to support Australians living with chronic conditions. Medibank’s CareComplete programs focus on improving the outcomes and quality of life for Australians living with chronic conditions. Through our initial pilot programs, we are already working with approximately 500 GP clinics and 1,000 GPs to deliver CareComplete to 3,000 patients, both Medibank members and others. CareComplete will be available across various locations in Australia. The programs will be open to governments and others to fund within their communities, as well as to eligible Medibank members.
Medibank is proud to be a foundation partner of MOVE muscle, bone and joint health.
Notes to Editors Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that affects the joints such as knees, hips and ankles and gets worse over time. There are 6.1 million Australians already affected, of which 58% are of working age in peak income earning years (25-64 years). In 2008-09, $1.6 billion was spent nationally on osteoarthritis (2.2 per cent of the health budget allocated to disease), with nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) being spent on hospital patients (MOVE Muscle, Bone & Joint Health - formally known as Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria).
About the Medibank Better Health Index*:
The Medibank Better Health Index is Australia’s most up-to-date and comprehensive quarterly health survey. Interviewing approximately 1,000 Australians each week since 2007, it offers a rich, in-depth look into the state of the nation’s health and how it’s changing. The Index is centred on seven health indicators: Nutrition, Fitness, BMI, Medical Health, Mental Health, Smoking and Alcohol. Each indicator is made up from numerous factors, which are all relevant to the respective health area. Together, these indicators make up the overall Health Index Score, which when combined year-on-year, lets us see whether Australia’s health is getting better or worse over time.
Research conducted by Roy Morgan Research* between January 2007 to December 2015
1. Percentage of Gen Ys falling into the ‘obese’ BMI category has increased from 14.7% in 2007 to 22.5% in 2015
2. Percentage of Gen Xs falling into the ‘obese’ BMI category has increased from 26.4% in 2007 to 32.5% in 2015
3. Health Weight Website, Australian Government Department of health http://www.healthyactive.gov.au/internet/healthyactive/publishing.nsf/Content/healthy-weight 4. Percentage of Gen Ys who jog increased from 25.3% to 34.9% (9.6% increase) and percentage of Gen Xs who jog increased from 15.2% to 22.2% (7% increase)
5. AIHW data: http://www.aihw.gov.au/chronic-diseases/comorbidity/