Latest Ministry of Health figures show 17 percent of adults have arthritis, up from 15 percent five years ago – and Māori are more likely to have arthritis than non-Māori.

The 2016-17 New Zealand Health Survey statistics show that more than half of adults over 75 have some form of arthritis, which often leads to chronic pain and is a major cause of disability for older people.

Philip Kearney, the CEO of Arthritis New Zealand said it sees the impact of arthritis daily in the numbers of people looking for advice and support through our services Kearney said the figures, which are drawn from the survey of 13,000 Kiwi adults, show a trend that was only going to place more of a burden on the health system and the economy as the population ages. He said arthritis already costs New Zealand an estimated $3.2 billion every year.

In the 2016-17 New Zealand Health Survey, the term ‘arthritis’ refers to adults who report that a doctor had told them at some time in their life that they had any type of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus and psoriatic arthritis. The survey also found that – after adjusting for age and sex differences – Māori adults were 1.2 times more likely to have arthritis than non-Māori adults. Asian adults were nearly half as likely to have arthritis as non-Asian adults, after adjusting for age and sex differences.

The most common form of arthritis was osteoarthritis, which affected 10 per cent of adults (about 386,000 adults) – up from 8.5 per cent in the 2011-12 survey. Osteoarthritis was also most common in women – 12.4 per cent compared to 7.7 per cent of men.

Gout and rheumatoid arthritis were equally common, with gout affecting 2.9% of adults (about 110,000 adults) and rheumatoid arthritis affecting 2.8% of adults (about 109,000 adults).

“Aside from the older population, almost half the people with arthritis are of working age, so it has a huge effect on families’ livelihoods, not to mention New Zealand’s productivity as a whole,” said Kearney.

He said part of its work was encouraging employers and ACC to reduce some of the barriers to paid employment for people with arthritis.

Arthritis New Zealand encouraged people to stay mobile, reduce weight and eat a healthy diet to reduce the impact of arthritis as they age. The charity, which relies on community fundraising for most of its income, also advocates for better access to rheumatology services and arthritis medications, accessible packaging, and early treatment of gout.

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