Introduction: Although obesity is a modifiable risk factor for knee osteoarthritis (OA), the effect of weight gain on knee structure in young and healthy adults has not been examined. The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between body mass index (BMI), and change in BMI over the preceding 10-year period, and knee structure (cartilage defects, cartilage volume and bone marrow lesions (BMLs)) in a population-based sample of young to middle-aged females.
Methods: One hundred and forty-two healthy, asymptomatic females (range 30 to 49 years) in the Barwon region of Australia, underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) during 2006 to 2008. BMI measured 10 years prior (1994 to 1997), current BMI and change in BMI (accounting for baseline BMI) over this period, was assessed for an association with cartilage defects and volume, and BMLs.
Results: After adjusting for age and tibial plateau area, the risk of BMLs was associated with every increase in one-unit of baseline BMI (OR 1.14 (95% CI 1.03 to 1.26) P = 0.009), current BMI (OR 1.13 (95% CI 1.04 to 1.23) P = 0.005), and per one unit increase in BMI (OR 1.14 (95% CI 1.03 to 1.26) P = 0.01). There was a trend for a one-unit increase in current BMI to be associated with increased risk of cartilage defects (OR 1.06 (95% CI 1.00 to 1.13) P = 0.05), and a suggestion that a one-unit increase in BMI over 10 years may be associated with reduced cartilage volume (-17.8 ml (95% CI -39.4 to 3.9] P = 0.10). Results remained similar after excluding those with osteophytes.
Conclusions: This study provides longitudinal evidence for the importance of avoiding weight gain in women during early to middle adulthood as this is associated with increased risk of BMLs, and trend toward increased tibiofemoral cartilage defects. These changes have been shown to precede increased cartilage loss. Longitudinal studies will show whether avoiding weight gain in early adulthood may play an important role in diminishing the risk of knee OA.