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What do we know about Rheumatoid Arthritis and Women with Abdominal Obesity?

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What do we know about Rheumatoid Arthritis and Women with Abdominal Obesity?

— By Dawn M. Sweet, Ph.D.

For women with obesity, there is an increased chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis, especially for those who present with obesity earlier in life.

Compared to general obesity, less is known about the relationship between abdominal obesity and rheumatoid arthritis. While BMI is correlated with rheumatoid arthritis in young and middle-aged woman and known to be associated with body fat and inflammation, it does not indicate body composition in terms of fat versus lean mass or fat distribution.1 Consequently, it does not account for the amount of abdominal fat — and because abdominal fat has a unique inflammatory profile, it may be a linked to obesity and rheumatoid arthritis.2

A larger waist circumference has been shown to be a risk factor for inflammatory diseases.1 However, mixed results in literature shows that research on rheumatoid arthritis and waist circumference has found an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis in those with a higher waist circumference as well as no increased risk.3,4

Waist Circumference, BMI, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Age

A 20212 study found, as expected, that women with a higher waist circumference had a higher BMI and were older (Mage = 53). There was an association between waist circumference and risk for rheumatoid arthritis, but this measure of obesity did not predict additional risk above what BMI or general obesity currently predicts.

In women with obesity who present with high levels of abdominal fat, research suggests that the proportion of visceral fat might have different implications for women, compared to male counterparts.4 Higher levels of visceral fat in women may help clinicians determine the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Weight Loss

Rheumatoid arthritis interferes with one’s ability to engage in physical activity, thereby creating an additional hurdle for persons with obesity in their weight loss journey. Weight loss is optimized when patients pair diet with exercise; rheumatoid arthritis can limit the mobility required for physical activity in pursuit of weight loss. For patients with obesity and rheumatoid arthritis, it is important to recognize the importance of a supervised meal plan and a Low Calorie Diet to manage weight loss so that patients can reduce the effects of rheumatoid arthritis and engage in more physical activity.



  1. Low fitness is associated with abdominal adiposity and low-grade inflammation independent of BMI
  2. Abdominal obesity in comparison with general obesity and risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women
  3. Body fat percentage, waist circumference, and obesity as risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis: a Danish cohort study
  4. Abdominal obesity, gender and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis–a nested case–control study

About the Author: Dr. Dawn M. Sweet has over 20 years of experience in the field of communication. Dr. Sweet has given several invited talks to and workshops for academic and private sector audiences on the role of nonverbal and verbal communication in achieving positive outcomes and mitigating bias. Her research has been published in several top ranked peer-review journals, and it has been featured on NPR’s River to River / All Things Considered, Buzzfeed, and Science Daily. Her research has also been used to inform expert testimony.

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