Conference Coverage

Randomized trial finds community-based weight-loss programs ease knee OA pain


AT ACR 2022

What works in the clinic can also work in community settings: Patients who are overweight or obese with knee osteoarthritis can find relief from pain through diet and exercise programs conducted in recreation centers, local gyms, fitness centers, and other places close to home, according to investigators in a pragmatic randomized trial.

The Weight Loss and Exercise for Communities With Arthritis in North Carolina (WE-CAN) study was modeled after the successful Intensive Diet and Exercise for Arthritis trial, which showed that adults randomized to 18 months of either a diet and exercise program or diet alone had more weight loss and larger reductions in levels of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 than patients randomized to exercise alone, and that diet alone was associated with greater reductions in knee compressive force than exercise alone.

Dr. Stephen P. Messier, professor and director of the J.B. Snow Biomechanics Laboratory at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Dr. Stephen P. Messier

That study was conducted by Stephen P. Messier, PhD, and colleagues at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.. As previously reported, the investigators also saw continued benefits for participants years after the original trial.

With the WE-CAN trial, results of which were reported at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, Dr. Messier and colleagues took the intervention one step further, randomizing 823 community-dwelling adults who were overweight or obese (body mass index [BMI], ≥ 27 kg/m2) with knee OA to either an 18-month diet and exercise intervention or attention control group consisting of five 1-hour face-to-face meetings over 18 months, plus information packets and phone sessions during alternate months.

“Compared to the control group, diet plus exercise had a statistically significant but modest reduction in pain. Diet plus exercise was 20% more likely to attain a clinically important 2-point improvement in pain,” Dr. Messier said in an oral abstract session at ACR.

Real-world setting

The primary goal of WE-CAN was to “determine whether adaptation of a diet and exercise academic center–based efficacy trial to community settings results in a statistically significant reduction in pain relative to an attention control.”

Couple walking for exercise Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

A total of 3,751 potential candidates were screened, and 823 were randomized and assigned to either a diet and exercise arm (414) or attention control arm (409). Of the patients randomized, 336 in the diet/exercise arm and 322 in the control arm attended the final 18-month follow-up visit.

The exercise component consisted of a 15-minute walking period, followed by a 20-minute weight-training period, and ending with a second 15-minute walking period. The diet goal was 10% or greater weight loss, aided by a distribution of low-calorie recipes to produce a reduced-calorie diet of the patient’s choice, with the option to include nutritional powder to make low-calories shakes as meal replacements, one or two per day for the first 6 months, with the option of one per day for the remaining months.

The pragmatic components included the use of established community facilities in both urban and rural counties in North Carolina, broad inclusion criteria, patient-centered outcomes, use of community-based staff to deliver the treatment, nonphysicians trained by study physicians to perform knee exams, and various means of communication, Dr. Messier said.

Participants in each arm were closely matched by demographic and clinical characteristics, with a mean age of 64.5 years in the diet/exercise group and 64.7 years in the attention control group, respective mean weight of 100.7 kg and 101.1 kg, and respective BMI of 36.7 and 36.9. Women comprised about 77% of participants in each group.


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