Working Longer Comes with a Price

A trio of NIOSH employees discussed the enormous cost of arthritis on the agency's Science Blog. They report its prevalence is expected to rise to 25 percent of the adult population by 2030.

The good folks at NIOSH and their director, Dr. John Howard, remind us frequently about the changing nature of work in America and the shifting demographics of the workers who accomplish it. It's clear many of us are working longer and delaying retirement, either by choice or necessity. Some of the challenges this trend will present are discussed in an Oct. 29 post to the NIOSH Science Blog by Brian D. Lowe, Ph.D., CPE, a research industry engineer with the Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Team in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology; Brent A. Baker, Ph.D., ATC, an integrative exercise physiologist and team leader for the Musculoskeletal Pathomechanics Research Team in the NIOSH Health Effects Laboratory Division; and Jim Grosch, Ph.D., MBA, a senior research psychologist with the Work Organization and Stress Research Team in the Division of Applied Research and Technology.

Describing arthritis, one of the musculoskeletal disorders that cause joint pain, they write that it is the leading cause of work disability, according to CDC, and in 2007 represented an annual cost (for arthritis and other rheumatic conditions) of $128 billion (MMWR, 2007), which included an estimated $47 billion in lost earnings. "The prevalence of arthritis in the U.S. is projected to increase to nearly 67 million (25% of the adult population) by the year 2030 with 25 million (9.3% of the adult population) projected to be limited in their physical activity because of the condition (Hootman and Helmick, 2006). Working-age adults (45-64 years) will account for almost one-third of arthritis cases. Workplace programs in the areas of safety, ergonomics, wellness, and disability management can all play a role in preventing joint pain and preserving joint health in working individuals of all ages," they write.

They note that avoiding obesity will positively affect musculoskeletal health, and resistance training has been shown to slow the effects of aging -– citing Melov et al. 2007, Hartman et al., 2007, and case studies in Promising Practices for Total Worker HealthTM. Their post asks readers to discuss their own programs for preventing and managing joint pain in the workplace and to recommend what NIOSH should be doing in this area.

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