How Ethnicity Affects Osteoarthritis

Physical therapist working on a man's leg

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Depending on your ethnicity, you may be more likely to develop osteoarthritis, according to new study results. Risk factors for osteoarthritis are more common among certain ethnic groups.

Women's Health Initiative Sheds Light on Ethnicity

Older African-American, Native American (or American Indian), and non-white Hispanic women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than white women, according to results from a group of postmenopausal women participating in an ongoing study, known as The Women's Health Initiative. Based on answers to a questionnaire, 44% of the women reported they had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis (referred to as self-reported osteoarthritis).

Two other risk factors for osteoarthritis, older age and higher body mass index (BMI), were strongly associated with self-reported osteoarthritis in the study.

The prevalence of obesity (defined as BMI greater than or equal to 30) on osteoarthritis was:

  • 57.9% for African-American women
  • 51% for American Indians
  • 41.9% for Hispanic whites
  • 32.9% for non-Hispanic whites

Non-Hispanic white women who fit into the extremely obese category (BMI greater than or equal to 40) had 2.8 times greater risk of self-reported osteoarthritis. But even greater odds were found in extremely obese American Indians (4.22 times greater odds) and extremely obese African-American women (3.31) -- indicating a clear interaction between BMI and ethnicity on the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Even among younger women, those in their 50s, osteoarthritis prevalence varied with ethnicity:

  • Hispanics 39.3%
  • American Indians 36.4%
  • African Americans 33.8%
  • Asians 25.8%
  • Non-Hispanic whites 22.6%

Other osteoarthritis risk factors, such as physical inactivity, showed a similar pattern of higher prevalence among ethnic groups. This data supports the need to focus on maintaining a healthy weight and participate in regular physical activity.

Ethnicity Tied to Specific Types of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis affects specific joints more than others in certain ethnic groups. Hip osteoarthritis is 33% more prevalent in older African-American men compared to white men.

Both ethnic groups have an equal risk for knee osteoarthritis, but African-American men are more likely to develop osteoarthritis in both knees. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, Asians have a higher risk of knee osteoarthritis, an equal risk for osteoarthritis in the spine, and a lower risk for osteoarthritis in the hips compared to non-Hispanic whites.

Genetic differences in joint structure may account for some differences found among ethnic groups.

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  • Self-Reported Osteoarthritis, Ethnicity, Body Mass Index, and Other Associated Risk Factors in Postmenopausal Women - Results from the Women's Health Initiative. Journal of the American Geriatric Society.Wright NC et. al. September 2008.