We are certainly aware of the myriad cardiovascular risks obesity can very likely trigger, but are we fully aware of the other health and mobility risks that are associated with a high body mass index?
A new data, recently collected and compiled for the Function and Outcomes Research for Comparative Effectiveness in Total Joint Replacement (FORCE-TJR), indicates that obesity is leading to debilitating joint damage in patients as young as 40 years old, roughly 25 years younger than the age orthopedic surgeons typically see for knee replacement surgeries.
In the past, when orthopedic surgeons saw younger patients (patients in their forties or younger) for knee replacement surgery, it was generally due to the aftereffects of extreme athleticism; sports figures and competitive weight lifters tend to experience joint and lower back pain earlier than the rest of the population.
The sudden explosion in knee surgeries initially caused a great deal of confusion in orthopedic circles. It was estimated that many of the younger patients were actually preemptively opting for knee replacement surgery so that they could maintain their active lifestyles in relative comfort, but that didn’t explain the size of the trend.
While this trend was originally believed to have been caused by many baby boomers’ aggressive “weekend warrior” lifestyles, their medical charts tell a different story. Of the 9,000 patients whose information was compiled for FORCE-TJR, the average BMI was 33 – squarely in the “obese” category. Because 33 was the average BMI, then that means half of the subjects actually had BMIs that were higher.
Tremendous weight and pressure on the joints can lead to joint deterioration and premature osteoarthritis, which makes walking, standing from a sitting position and flexing the knees extremely painful and eventually impossible without creating significant bone damage. Additionally, obese patients are more likely to develop arthritis at a young age, as well as have their joint issues aggravated by obesity-related joint inflammation.
A patient’s obesity can lead to complications in recovery post knee replacement surgery, since an obese patient is more likely to suffer from pulmonary disease and type 2 diabetes.
Every day, new research points to the urgency in winning the fight against obesity. Obesity can cripple us from the inside out, making us susceptible to illness and infection, and severely (and possibly permanently) limit our mobility. Obese children are at a particular disadvantage, since the joint deterioration begins at a much earlier age, and the bones and muscles don’t have a chance to develop effectively due to the lack of proper exercise and nutrition.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be so; if addressed early, knee problems can be slowed down or even prevented by losing weight, strengthening the muscles and embracing a nutritious diet. The fight against obesity is one that we can win.
 Tarkan, Laurie: Adding Pounds, Then New Knees New York Times 11/11/2013 http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/11/adding-pounds-then-new-knees/?ref=nutrition&_r=0