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 question." 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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