U.S. Arthritis Numbers, Costs Soaring
By Janice Billingsley
Fri Apr 27, 7:02 PM ET
FRIDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- As America's baby boomers move into late middle age, arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are taking up an ever larger chunk of health-care spending, a federal study warns.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, which spans the six years from 1997 to 2003, detected a 25 percent jump in the number of adult Americans with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions. Overall, more than 46 million people now suffer from arthritis, compared to 36.8 million in 1997.
That means more than one in every five adult Americans now has arthritis, the CDC says.
The total annual tab to care for these patients: almost $81 billion.
The $81 billion figure represents three percent of U.S. gross domestic product ( GDP), "a startling figure," said Louise Murphy, an Atlanta epidemiologist who worked with the CDC on the report.
Something must be done to turn these figures around, experts say.
"An aging population isn't something that we can control, but you can try to make the population healthier. We really have to push public health programs that improve food consumption and the ability to exercise," said Edward Yelin, professor of medicine and health at the University of California, San Francisco, and lead author of the study.
Baby boomers -- Americans born between 1946 and 1964 -- are leading the surge. Of the nine million people newly diagnosed with arthritis or rheumatoid conditions during the six-year study, 66 percent of those people were between the ages of 44 to 64.
Significant, too, according to researchers, was that most of the increases in arthritis and other rheumatoid conditions occurred among people who had other health worries, such as diabetes or heart conditions. In this group, the prevalence of arthritis increased by 28 percent, from 31.8 million to 40.8 million, compared to a 6 percent increase for those who were otherwise healthy, 5 million to 5.3 million.
Overweight and obesity are prime culprits, Yelin said. "Higher levels of body mass index (BMI) are associated with higher rates of osteoarthritis," he said. "And osteoarthritis in the joint this year is the joint replacement five to ten years down the road."
Caring for these new patients doesn't come cheap. Attendant costs for treating people with arthritis rose by 24 percent between 1997 and 2003 -- from $65 billion to $81 billion, the report found.
Murphy said she and her colleagues were surprised to find the cost increases mostly attributable to people rather than procedures.
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Assess Your Risk for arthritis at The Arthritis Foundation.