Background: Obesity is linked to knee osteoarthritis (OA) and knee pain. These are disabling problems that are more prevalent in older adults. No prospective study has estimated the impact of excess weight avoidance on the occurrence of knee pain in the general older population. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of overweight and obesity on the onset and progression of knee pain and disability in older adults living in the community.
Methods: A prospective cohort study of people aged 50 and over registered with three general practices in North Staffordshire, UK. 5784 people who had responded to a survey in March 2000 were mailed a follow-up questionnaire in March 2003. The main outcome measures were self-reported knee pain and severe knee pain and disability at 3 years measured by the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis index.
Results: Adjusted response to follow-up was 75%. Among responders with no knee pain at baseline, obesity predicted onset of severe knee pain (relative risk 2.8; 95% CI 1.8, 4.5 compared to normal body mass index (BMI) category). Considering overweight and obese categories together, 19% of new cases of severe knee pain over a 3-year period could potentially be avoided by a one-category shift downwards in BMI; this includes almost half of the new cases that arose in the obese group.
Conclusion: Obesity accounts for a substantial proportion of severe disabling knee pain. As knee pain is a common disabling condition in older adults living in the community, effective public health interventions about avoidance of excess weight could have a major impact on future lower limb disability in older adults.