Not your grandma's arthritis: Arthritis Foundation's latest campaign focuses on younger demographic

The Arthritis Foundation celebrates those taking the disease head on with its "Chronic Strength Champions" campaign. (Arthritis Foundation)

The Arthritis Foundation wants to remind people that arthritis doesn’t just affect grandparents. Two out of three people with arthritis are younger than 65 years.

Its new "Chronic Strength Champions" campaign emphasizes arthritis’s affects on all ages and ethnicities. Debuted for September's Pain Awareness Month, the work centers on young people who are fighting back against chronic pain in Chronic Pain Champion profiles on its website. Around 300,000 American kids and teens live with juvenile arthritis (JA) or other pediatric rheumatic diseases.

Sachi Arya, who was diagnosed with osteoarthritis at the age of 43, took his doctor saying, “Don't worry, you’re not climbing mountains, anyway” as a challenge. Since then, Arya has scaled 25 mountains.

The campaign is running on social media and directs viewers to the website which features diverse stories of managing arthritis’s chronic pain, which also appear on the foundation’s Vim app that launched in May.

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The foundation is also aiming to educate people that arthritis isn’t just a given for older people. Explaining the different kinds of arthritis and how they affect different people is important, Steve Taylor, executive vice president of mission and strategic initiatives for the Arthritis Foundation, said.

“We trivialize arthritis with phrases like, ‘Oh yeah, my grandmother has arthritis.' That isn't necessarily the same arthritis as an 18-year old with juvenile arthritis or a 25-year old with rheumatoid arthritis or a 30-year-old male with psoriatic arthritis, or even a person with gout, which is a form of arthritis,” he said.

Taylor added, “This is a serious disease and it is hard to live with, as is the stigma they live with. So we're trying to overcome that, especially in the JA population.”

One way to do that is by showing just what can be achieved by people living with arthritis. In July during Juvenile Arthritis Awareness month, the foundation chose NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Natalie Decker as a champion ambassador.

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Decker, 24, was born with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and needs to take extra precautions to ensure she doesn’t experience a flare-up before a race. Still, that hasn’t stopped her from racing and winning—not surprisingly, "kids go crazy for her," Taylor said.

Decker participated in the National Juvenile Arthritis Conference and National Juvenile Arthritis Camps sponsored by Bristol Myers Squibb and Genentech, with both held virtually for the second year in a row. Next year, the camps are planning in-person sleep-away camps in nine locations around the U.S., where kids can connect with their peers as well as learn from older kids managing their arthritis. The conference is set to return live in 2022 sponsored by AbbVie with additional support by Genentech.

“We want them to live their best life, whatever that life is that they want to live," Taylor said. "We want them to still be able to hope and dream and look at the future with great, big eyes and think they can do anything they want.”