Obesity and knee osteoarthritis shorten healthy years of life

Boston, MA — An estimated 10 million Americans suffer from knee osteoarthritis (OA), making it one of the most common causes of disability in the US. Due to obesity and symptomatic knee OA, Americans over the age of 50 will together lose the equivalent of 86 million healthy years of life, concluded researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), who investigated the potential gains in quality and quantity of life that could be achieved averting losses due to obesity and knee OA. These findings are published in the February 15 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Reducing obesity to levels observed in 2000 would prevent 172,792 cases of coronary heart disease, 710,942 cases of diabetes, and 269,934 total knee replacements,” said Elena Losina, PhD lead author of the study and co-director of Orthopedics and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research in the Dept of Orthopedic Surgery at BWH. “All told, it would save roughly 19.5 million years of life among US adults aged 50-84.”

Experts have long known that knee osteoarthritis is on the rise among Americans, due in part to the growing obesity epidemic and longer life expectancy. Obesity and knee OA are among the most frequent chronic conditions in older Americans. However, how that translates into years of healthy life lost has not been accurately estimated. Dr. Losina and colleagues used a mathematical simulation model to assemble national data on the occurrence of knee OA, obesity and other important conditions such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease. Their analysis examines the contribution of both obesity and knee OA to losses in quantity and quality of life. It also evaluates how those losses are distributed among racial and ethnic subpopulations in the United States.

“There are 86 million healthy years of life at stake, a disproportionate number of them being lost by Black and Hispanic women,” said Jeffrey N. Katz, MD, Director of the Orthopedics and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research at the BWH and a senior author of the study. “These staggering numbers may help patients and physicians to better grasp the scale of the problem and the potential benefits of behavior change.”

This study was funded by grants from National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease and the Arthritis Foundation. Contributing authors include Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, Massachusetts General Hospital, William M. Reichmann, MA, Holly L. Holt, Hanna Gerlovin, Daniel H. Solomon, MD, MPH and Jeffrey N. Katz, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, David Hunter MD from University of Sydney, Australia, Joanne M. Jordan, MD from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Drs. Lisa Suter and A. David Paltiel, from Yale University School of Medicine.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare, an integrated health care delivery network. BWH is the home of the Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, the most advanced center of its kind. BWH is committed to excellence in patient care with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery. The BWH medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and its dedication to educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, involving more than 900 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by more than $ 537 M in funding. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses’ and Physicians’ Health Studies and the Women’s Health Initiative. For more information about BWH, please visit www.brighamandwomens.org.

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