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Arthritis and osteoporosis are among the most common long term chronic health problems in Australia, affecting 1 in 6 Australians, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report, Arthritis and osteoporosis in Australia 2008, examines the 'big issues' in arthritis and osteoporosis - issues such as disability, falls and fractures, treatment and management.

Arthritis affects about 3.3 million Australians, including more than one-third of people aged 65 or over and more than half of those aged 85 years or over.

According to the report the most common form, osteoarthritis, affects over 1.3 million Australians or more than 6% of the population - up to 1 in 3 people over the age of 85 - and is one of the top 10 problems managed by GPs.

Almost 2.7 million Medicare-paid GP consultations in 2007-08 included management of osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (which is almost twice as common in females as it is in males) affects almost 400,000 Australians.

Parental reports suggest that over 2,000 Australian children - mostly girls - have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. A similar number of parents report children with symptoms of arthritis but no formal diagnosis.

Use of medications such as analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs and anti-rheumatic drugs is the most common management strategy for arthritis. In addition to GPs, allied health and complementary practitioners play an important role in improving and maintaining body structure and function.

Regular physical activity, a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding repetitive joint-loading tasks (such as kneeling, squatting and heavy lifting) can help to prevent or delay the onset of osteoarthritis.

Due to the mostly symptomless nature of osteoporosis, the almost 600,000 Australians (mostly women over the age of 55) who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis probably represent only a small portion of the actual number.

Osteoporosis is largely preventable. Key preventive actions include regular weight-bearing exercise, a balanced diet including calcium-rich foods, adequate vitamin D levels and maintaining a healthy weight. Childhood and adolescence is a key time for building healthy bones and ensuring high peak bone mass.

Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and juvenile arthritis are the focus of the Better Arthritis and Osteoporosis Care (BAOC) 2006 Federal Budget initiative, which aims to improve awareness, diagnosis and management of these conditions.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Further information: Tracy Dixon, tel. 6244 1103 mob. 0407 915 851.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1032.

Availability: Check the AIHW Publications area for the availability of Arthritis and osteoporosis in Australia 2008.