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Osteoarthritis will cost the Canadian economy $17.5 billion per year

Knee with osteoarthritis

Image courtesy of yodiyim at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to a study published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, the rate of osteoarthritis (OA) is increasing and Canada’s aging population and rising rate of obesity is to blame. Osteoarthritis is a leading cause of chronic pain and loss of mobility in Canada and is associated with reduced productivity and increased burden on the health care system.

Statistics Canada reports that almost two-thirds of Canadian adults and 23% of children are overweight or obese. “These compelling demographic trends will increase the burden of OA and the associated disability among the working age population will become substantial in the coming years,” Behram Sharif, research team lead and an Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute post-doctoral fellow based at the University of Calgary, said.

Researchers from the University of Calgary and Statistics Canada predict that by 2031, OA will cost the Canadian economy an estimated $17.5 billion a year in lost productivity. Osteoarthritis forces people to stop working or work less due to pain, fatigue, and the demands of prescribed treatment therapies. The work time loss is significant because the number of workers available to replace retiring baby boomers are low after decades of low birth rates.

Behram added: “Our findings underscore the importance of implementing public strategies to prevent OA while also developing ways to maintain the workplace productivity of people who have the disease. Canada could lose a significant portion of its shrinking work force to osteoarthritis unless policies are developed now to sustain the employability of people who have pain and loss of function in their hips and knees.”

Researchers looked at work productivity from the Statistics Canada Canadian Community Health Survey for 2003. Below are the key findings:

  • There are more than 7,000 Canadians aged 25-64 with OA
  • By using a simulation model, they projected a 13% increase in the working age population with OA, to 1.7 million in 2031 from 1.5 million in 2010
  • The cost of lost productivity was projected to rise by 46% to $17.5 billion in 2031 from $12 billion in 2010
  • 40% of the projected increase in productivity loss was due to the rising prevalence of OA and changes in demographics
  • 60% of the increase was due to real wage growth over the period
  • The highest loss of productivity was with men and women 55 to 64 years of age

To read more results, please visit Osteoarthritis and Cartilage.

The researchers also found that even if Canadians extended their working years, obesity in the younger population would continue to escalate the rate of OA and the associated productivity decline. Canada must develop policies to address both problem simultaneously.

Deborah Marshall, research team member, professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, and director of Health Technology Assessment and Research for Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute, concluded: “Estimating and projecting the productivity costs of work loss due to OA are critical steps to creating public health policies for meeting the growing OA challenge. Furthermore, it is essential that we identify the segments of the population incurring high losses of productivity so that we can allocate the necessary resources to where they will produce the greatest benefit.”