Objective: To determine the influence of body weight throughout the life course on the development of clinical hand osteoarthritis (OA).
Methods: A British national survey was used to perform a prospective cohort study of 1,467 men and 1,519 women born in 1946. Weight was measured at birth and at subsequent followup visits through childhood and adulthood. The main outcome measure was the odds ratio for the presence of hand OA at the age of 53 years.
Results: Two hundred eighty men (19%) and 458 women (30%) had OA in at least 1 hand joint. Hand OA was significantly associated with increased weight at ages 26 years, 43 years, and 53 years and with decreased weight at birth in men. Birth weight and adult weight showed independent effects, such that men with the highest risk for OA represented those who had been heaviest at age 53 years and lightest at birth. These findings were not explained by grip strength. There was no significant relationship between weight and hand OA in women.
Conclusion: The results of this study show that increased adult weight is associated with, and may precede, development of hand OA in men. An association between hand OA and weight was not observed in women. The relationship between hand OA and decreased birth weight is a new finding and may reflect the persisting influence of prenatal environmental factors on adult joint structure and function.