A study presented recently at the European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR 2018) suggests that childhood and adult obesity increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee and hip, but not of the hand.

To test the hypothesis that the association between obesity and OA is causal, investigators used a method known as “mendelian randomization,” which uses genetic variants to investigate whether a biomarker has an effect on the risk of developing disease, explains a media release from the European League Against Rheumatism.

“Obesity in both childhood and adulthood is an important public health issue,” said Professor Johannes W. Bijlsma, EULAR president, in the release. “These data showing a causal relationship with osteoarthritis should add further impetus to tackle the issue of obesity and reduce related disability.”

Results of the study indicated that adult body mass index (BMI) significantly increased the prevalence of self-reported OA, knee OA or hip OA by 2.7%, 1.3%, and 0.4% per unit (1 kg/m2) increase in BMI, respectively. Childhood BMI significantly increased the prevalence of self-reported OA, knee OA, or hip OA by 1.7%, 0.6%, and 0.6% per BMI unit, respectively.

No associations were found between either adult or child BMI and hand OA, which contradicts previous cohorts. Investigators suggest that this could be explained by the impact of various confounding factors such as manual work or related socio-economic factors. Finally, no relationship was found with traumatic eye injury, which was used in the study as a negative control, the release continues.

“Our results suggest the effect of adult BMI seems to be stronger on knees, whilst childhood BMI might impact both knee and hip osteoarthritis risk similarly,” says Professor Prieto-Alhambra (senior study author), in the release. “Interestingly our findings contradict previous studies that found an association between obesity and hand osteoarthritis.”

Investigators used data from two genome-wide association studies which identified 15 and 97 specific gene changes, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), associated with childhood and adulthood BMI, respectively. They then used a separate GWAS of 337,000 unrelated individuals in the UK BioBank.

Within this data they identified 13/15 childhood obesity SNPs and 68/97 adulthood obesity SNPs and then analyzed the association between these SNPs and self-reported osteoarthritis, as well as hospital data for knee, hip, and hand osteoarthritis. Associations with negative controls (myopia, left-handedness, and traumatic eye injury) were all inexistent as expected, per the release.

[Source(s): European League Against Rheumatism, Science Daily]