A recent study has projected that by the year 2050, nearly 1 billion people will be living with osteoarthritis, which is the most prevalent form of arthritis. Presently, 15% of individuals aged 30 and above experience osteoarthritis. This research was published today in The Lancet Rheumatology and involved the analysis of 30 years’ worth of osteoarthritis data (1990-2020

The study’s findings indicate a significant increase in cases over the past three decades, primarily due to three main factors: aging, population growth, and obesity. In 1990, there were 256 million people with osteoarthritis, which rose to 595 million people by 2020, representing a 132% increase from 1990. By 2050, this number is expected to approach 1 billion.

Dr. Jaimie Steinmetz, the corresponding author of the paper and lead research scientist at IHME, emphasizes the need to anticipate the strain on healthcare systems in most countries, given the key drivers of increasing longevity and a growing global population. Since there is currently no effective cure for osteoarthritis, the focus should be on prevention, early intervention, and making costly yet effective treatments like joint replacements more affordable in low- and middle-income countries.

The study also projects significant increases in osteoarthritis cases by 2050 based on affected body areas:

  • Knees: +74.9%
  • Hand: +48.6%
  • Hip: +78.6%
  • Other areas (e.g., elbow, shoulder): +95.1%

Furthermore, it’s anticipated that more women than men will continue to be affected by this condition, with 61% of osteoarthritis cases in women and 39% in men in 2020. Several factors, including genetics, hormonal influences, and anatomical differences, may contribute to this gender disparity.

The study underscores the role of obesity as a significant risk factor for osteoarthritis. Addressing obesity on a global scale could potentially reduce the burden of osteoarthritis by an estimated 20%. The research also reveals that obesity’s impact has grown over time as obesity rates have increased. In 1990, obesity contributed to 16% of disability associated with osteoarthritis, rising to 20% in 2020.

Dr. Liane Ong, lead research scientist at IHME, who supervised and co-authored the study, emphasizes the opportunity for healthcare systems and governments to identify vulnerable populations, tackle obesity-related factors, and develop strategies for managing and preventing osteoarthritis. She also highlights the counterintuitive nature of physical activity, as it can prevent injuries early in life and be beneficial for individuals with joint pain. Staying physically active should not be discouraged, even for those experiencing joint pain.

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