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The Mass Media and Communication sector encompasses organizations that develop health communications or engage in public and private marketing of messages on the importance of physical activity for adults and available evidence-based interventions.

  1. Making the case
  2. What can you do?
  3. Strategies
Action Brief

Media and Communication Professionals Make a Difference!

Making the case

Arthritis is common and costly

Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States.

  • 58.5 million U.S. adults have arthritis – about 23.7% of the population.
  • 8.6 million U.S. adults (19%) report disability due to arthritis. In this context, disability is defined as a limitation or loss of function, most often manifested as difficulty climbing a flight of stairs and walking 3 city blocks (a distance equal to walking from the parking lot to the back of a large store or through a mall).
  • As the number of older Americans contin­ues to grow, and the rates of obesity and overweight increase, the number of people with arthritis-attributable activity limitations will only increase.
To learn more:

Theis KA, Murphy LB, Guglielmo D, et al. Prevalence of Arthritis and Arthritis-Attributable Activity Limitation — United States, 2016–2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:1401–1407. html; pdf  [391K]

Hootman JM, Brault MW, Helmick CG, Theis KA, Armour BS. Prevalence and Most Common Causes of Disability Among Adults — United States, 2005. MMWR 2009;58(16):421-426. html; pdf  [1.3Mb]


Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions cost our nation $128 billion each year – or 1.2% of the gross domestic product (in 2003).

  • $81 billion of that cost is due to health care expenses and the remaining $47 billion is a result of lost earnings and reduced productivity.

Adults with arthritis often have other chronic conditions and arthritis makes managing these other conditions more difficult:

  • Of these comorbid conditions — heart disease (49%), chronic respiratory conditions, obesity (31%), diabetes (47%), and stroke are among the most common
To learn more:

Medical care expenditures and earnings losses among persons with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in 2003, and comparisons with 1997

CDC arthritis cost statistics

About arthritis comorbidity

About arthritis and anxiety and depression


Adults with arthritis are more likely to fall.

Because of physical limitations and disease progression over time, adults with arthritis are prone to falling. This could be because of pain, awkward gait, tripping or slipping easily, or not being able to “catch” themselves if they are off balance. Engaging regularly in balance activities, such as Tai Chi, has been shown to prevent falls and improve stability.

To learn more:

About Tai-chi

CDC Compendium of Effective Fall Interventions: What Works for Community-Dwelling Older Adults, 2nd Edition


Physical activity benefits all adults — INCLUDING adults with arthritis.

  • It offers immediate and measurable health benefits: decreased pain, delayed onset of disability, and improved physical functioning, mood, and independence.
  • It also enhances quality of life, aerobic capacity, and muscle strength.
  • It is a low-cost, effective, and sustain­able approach to arthritis management.
To learn more:


People with arthritis can safely engage in physical activity.

Moderate intensity exercise is safe for people with arthritis due to its low risk of injury and has been shown not to aggravate joint symptoms.  Walking, in particular, has more than half the risk of musculoskeletal injury compared to other vigorous activities like running. A variety of evidence-based physical activity programs have been tested and proven appropriate and safe for adults with arthritis.

To learn more:


Unfortunately, far too few adults with arthritis participate in recommended physical activity.

  • Almost 38.2% of adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis report no leisure-time physical activity, a considerably higher proportion compared with adults without arthritis.
  • Low levels of physical activity place individuals with arthritis at further risk of inactivity-associated conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and functional limitations.
To learn more:
  • Hootman JM, Kamil E. Barbour KE, Watson KB, Fulton JE. State-Specific Prevalence of Walking Among Adults with Arthritis — United States, 2011. MMWR Weekly May 3, 2013 / 62(17);331-334.
  • Dunlop DD, Song J, Semanik PA, Chang RW, Sharma L, Bathon JM, Eaton CB, Hochberg MC, Jackson RD, Kwoh KC, Mysiw WJ, Nevitt MC, Hootman JM. Objective physical activity measurement in the osteoarthritis initiative: Are guidelines being met? Arthritis Rheum. 2011 Jul 26. doi: 10.1002/art.30562.
  • Barbour KE, Hootman JM, Murphy LB, Helmick CG. Arthritis as a Potential Barrier to Physical Activity Among Obese Adults–United States, 2007 and 2009.  MMWR 2011;60(19):614–618. html  pdf  [1.7MB]
  • Hootman JM, Barbour KE, Watson KB, Harris C.  State-specific prevalence of no leisure-time physical activity among adults with and without doctor-diagnosed arthritis – United States, 2009. MMWR 2011;60(48):1641-1645. html  pdf  [1.10MB]
  • Bolen J, Murphy L, Greenlund K, , Helmick CG, Hootman J, Brady TJ, Langmaid G, Keenan N. Arthritis as a potential barrier to physical activity among adults with heart disease — United States, 2005 and 2007. MMWR 2009;58(7):165-169. html; pdf  [1.25Mb]
  • Bolen J, Hootman J, Helmick CG, Murphy L, Langmaid G, Caspersen CJ. Arthritis as a potential barrier to physical activity among adults with diabetes — United States, 2005 and 2007. MMWR 2008;57(18):486-489. html; pdf  [1.3Mb]
  • Shih M, Hootman JM, Kruger J, Helmick CG. Physical activity in men and women with arthritis National Health Interview Survey, 2002. Am J Prev Med. 2006 May;30(5):385-93.

What can you do?

“Mass media, both traditional media, like TV and magazines, and ’new’ media, like Web sites, social networking sites, and text messaging, have enormous potential and power to influence individual behaviors and societal attitudes.”[1] 

There are several ways for those of you working in the media and communications sector to help spread the word about the impact arthritis has on our nation and encourage increased opportunities for physical activity. Print, broadcast, social media, and personal stories are all effective if used strategically and thoughtfully.

A few tips—

Keep in mind some critical barriers:

  • The health media landscape is very crowded.  Conditions like obesity tend to dominate.
  • Arthritis alone tends not to attract media attention because it may not be perceived as “sexy” or newsworthy. In addition, the high prevalence and television ads touting treatments for the “minor aches and pains of arthritis” all contribute to the perception that it is a common nuisance to be tolerated.
  • People are tired of hearing about how good physical activity is for their health. Convincing those who are inactive is getting increasingly difficult.

Consider a media strategy that includes increased coverage at both national and local levels, through major networks and popular anchors as well as mayors and other community figures.

Take into account the primary ways adults get their health messages. While social media may become more important over time, Twitter and Facebook are not the principal vehicles for older adult age groups. Instead, they may rely on websites sponsored by AARP or WebMD, health magazines that they read in providers’ offices, and their daily local newspapers and neighborhood weeklies, and radio talk shows.

Bear in mind that policy makers are another valuable audience. They will likely get their information from sources that older adults may not, so the messages and the vehicles need to be tailored to them specifically.

Consider media coverage throughout the year, but particularly concentrate on coverage before and during local or national newsworthy events, such as in May — Arthritis Month — and World Arthritis Day.

Debunk myths —

  • Let people know that the disease is not just an inevitable part of aging and stress “living with” rather than “suffering from” arthritis.
  • Let people know that they can still pursue the activities they enjoy, and don’t have to give up their jobs, even if they are diagnosed with arthritis. Physical activity can help them remain engaged in valued life activities.
  • Let people know who arthritis affects (e.g., two-thirds of working aged adults, 18–64 years).

If adults suspect that they have arthritis, encourage them to visit a provider and emphasize that they can reduce arthritis symptoms by boosting physical activity.

Use photos of adults with arthritis with whom your audience can identify. Your message will resonate more with your audience if they hear your story.

Feel free to click and copy the photos on this website, particularly those that show how active adults with arthritis can be.

Involve credible organizations with good reputations and leaders in the field, including your local Arthritis Foundation and American College of Rheumatology (ACR). Organizations like these often have a “press area” on their websites. These sites and others can be mined for the latest stories and data hooks.

Coordinate media efforts with local organizations that are committed to physical activity and are already providing some message to adults with arthritis. This may include organizations that are likely to be working with people with arthritis, which may vary with the demographics of their constituents.


Strategy 1: Promote the benefits of physical activity and evidence-based interventions for adults with arthritis through available media and public outlets.

Simple messages can help reassure all adults, including those with arthritis, that physical activity does not have to be rigorous and exhausting to be effective.  Engaging in some activity every day, even for just 10 minutes at a time, can make a significant difference.  No matter how long, doing some physical activity is better than none at all.

Strategy 2: Base physical activity messages on arthritis-specific consumer research findings.

Physical Activity. The Arthritis Pain Reliever is a health communications campaign designed to promote physical activity among Caucasian and African American people who are 45 to 65 years old and have arthritis. Campaign materials include radio spots, billboards, bus shelter placards, brochures, and print ads flyers, bookmarks, and bill stuffers.

Strategy 3: Use targeted messages to connect adults with arthritis to evidence-based physical activity interventions.

Sharing information about available resources in the community can connect adults with convenient walking programs and other recommended activities. In addition, media messages to the public should include links to health care resources in the area.

[1] Source: The National Physical Activity Plan