A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, in Atlanta raises concerns about the nation’s obesity crisis: As obesity rates climb, so, too, does the number of people dealing with both obesity and arthritis. And the rates are increasing far faster in some states.

The news is published in the April 29, 2011, edition of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a weekly public health publication from the CDC. The findings were released in conjunction with the Arthritis Foundation and the beginning of National Arthritis Awareness Month in May.

“As obesity climbs, that’s going to result in more cases of arthritis,” says study co-author Jennifer Hootman, PhD, an epidemiologist with the Arthritis Program at the CDC. “More obesity is eventually going to result in more arthritis cases, we just can’t measure the number right now.”

Researchers at the agency analyzed data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, or BRFSS, an ongoing telephone health survey system that has been tracking health-related conditions and behaviors for more than 15 years. During the period examined for this report – 2003 to 2009 – obesity rates rose 2.2 percent among adults without arthritis, from 21.4 to 23.6 percent of Americans. Obesity rates climbed 2 percent among adults with arthritis, from 33.2 to 35.2 percent.

But the most alarming number, say researchers, comes when you compare these two populations: During the years studied, adults with arthritis had an average rate of obesity that was 54 percent higher than obese adults without the condition.

“That’s even adjusting for age. It’s not just that people are aging,” says Hootman. While obesity is on the rise overall, due to such factors as sedentary lifestyles and jobs, an aging population and changes in eating habits, Hootman is troubled to see rising numbers of adults dealing with obesity and arthritis. “If we don’t address obesity in them, we’re likely not going to be able to reach the national goal [of reducing obesity],” she says.

Some States Gain, Others Lose

Researchers also broke down the data state-by-state.

The 10 states with the highest rates of obesity among adults with arthritis – without adjusting for age – are South Carolina (38.7 percent), Arkansas (38.9 percent), Kentucky (38.9 percent), Alaska (39 percent), Michigan (39.3 percent), Missouri (39.7 percent), West Virginia (40.2 percent), Wisconsin (41.5 percent), Mississippi (42.4 percent) and Louisiana (43.5 percent).

The 10 states with the lowest rates of obesity among adults with arthritis – also without age adjustments – are Colorado (26.9 percent), Hawaii (27.8 percent), Vermont (29.5 percent), District of Columbia (29.7 percent), Wyoming (30.6 percent), Arizona (30.7 percent), Rhode Island (30.7 percent), Massachusetts (30.8 percent), Connecticut (30.9 percent) and Oregon (31 percent).

The District of Columbia was the only area studied to show a significant decrease in obesity among adults with arthritis, but Hootman says, “it’s probably not truly that the rate of obesity dropped.” Rather, she suspects it is likely due to the population and demographic shifts the nation’s capital has seen in recent years. “People at lower risk for obesity, like whites and younger males, are moving into D.C.”