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OBJECTIVE: To investigate the association of arthritis with health status indicators among elders living in Bambuí, Brazil. METHODS: A cross-sectional study was conducted among 1606 elders using baseline data from the Bambuí Health and Aging Study, a population based cohort study of older adults. Arthritis was self-reported and defined as a physician diagnosis of arthritis or rheumatism, and/or chronic hand and knee symptoms. Health status indicators, defined a priori as the main independent variables, were self-rated health, psychological distress (based on the General Health Questionnaire), report of sleep complaints, disability in activities of daily living (ADL), "2-week" disability, mobility disability, and 2 composite indexes of mental health problems and physical disability problems. Logistic regression compared health status indicators among elders reporting arthritis (N = 833) and non-arthritis subjects. RESULTS: After controlling for sociodemographics and chronic conditions, all measures were found to be associated with arthritis: sleep complaints (OR 1.81, 95% CI 1.43-1.92), fair (OR 2.17, 95% CI 1.62-2.90) and poor self-rated health (OR 3.48, 95% CI 2.46-4.94), ADL disability (OR 1.73, 95% CI 1.02-2.87), mobility disability (OR 2.65, 95% CI 2.06-3.41), 2-week disability (OR 1.86, 95% CI 1.35-2.57), 2 mental health problems (OR 2.25, 95% CI 1.67-3.04), and one (OR 2.46, 95% CI 1.91-3.16) and 2 physical disability problems (OR 4.19, 95% CI 2.02-8.59). CONCLUSION: Considering the paucity of similar studies addressing the impact of arthritis in developing nations, these findings may be applied to similar communities and support better planning of resource allocations to minimize the effects of arthritis among the elderly.