Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 31, 1994

Weighty Youth May Lead Men to Later-Life Pain
By Michele Fizzano

Young men who carry as few as 20 extra pounds nearly double their
chance of developing painful knee and hip osteoarthritis later in
life. A new study, presented last week at the 58th annual
Scientific Meeting of the American College of Rheumatology,
reports that even small bulges can cause big problems.
    The findings emerged from a long-term study in which Hopkins
scientists followed 1,178 men who had entered the School of
Medicine from 1948 through 1964. The average age of the research
group was 22 when they entered medical school, which was a
significant factor for the study, principal investigator Allan C.
Gelber said. No other study has evaluated men from such an early
age and followed them throughout adulthood, he added.
     Over the years, investigators recorded participants'
height, weight and age in addition to hip and knee
osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. The heaviest
students, averaging 190 pounds, were three and a half times more
likely to develop osteoarthritis in their weight-bearing joints
than the lightest students, who averaged 146 pounds.
    A national study this year revealed that one-third of all
U.S. adults aged 20 and older are overweight.    
    "Researchers have been faced with the chicken and egg
dilemma," Dr. Gelber said. "It was unclear from previous studies
if being overweight led to osteoarthritis because the joints had
to work harder, or if osteoarthritis led to a sedentary lifestyle
and subsequent weight gain. These results shed new light on that
    More than 40 million Americans have been diagnosed with
osteoarthritis, a major cause of disability and missed workdays.
It is a mechanical problem, Dr. Gelber said, caused when aging
and use, combined with genetic and biological factors, wear the
cartilage thin or destroy it altogether. Without the adequate
cushion of a thick shock absorber, bone meets bone, causing
friction and pain. 
    Medication and joint replacement temper the pain, Dr. Gelber
said, but weight control is a behavior that can be modified.
    The Hopkins study, which continues to follow 1,000 men and
women, is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the
National Arthritis Foundation. 

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