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Weight-Cycling Linked to Increased Risk of Knee Cartilage Degeneration
April 30, 2021

By Nancy Melville

VIRTUAL -- April 30, 2021 -- Repetitive fluctuations in weight loss and gain, known as weight cycling, in overweight and obese people is significantly associated with an increased risk of degenerative changes to the knee cartilage and bone marrow, compared with those who maintain steady a weight, according to a study presented at the 2021 Virtual Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) World Congress.

“Overall, the results of this study suggest that people with BMI [body mass index] variability/weight cycling have significantly greater degenerative changes in cartilage and bone marrow over 4 years compared with people that do not have high BMI variability, and the relationship is independent of the amount of weight change,” said Gabby B. Joseph, PhD, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California.

For the study, the researchers evaluated data on 2,271 patients in the Osteoarthritis Initiative database, using measurements of BMI, MRI findings, and other factors to assess the effects of weight cycling on knee degeneration over 4 years.

Those who were weight cyclers were younger than those with a steady weight (mean age, 58.6 vs 60.9 years), had a higher mean BMI (32.6 vs 29.7), and were also more likely to be female (P = .00012).

Over 4 years, the 249 patients identified as weight cyclers had significantly greater progression of cartilage degeneration, according to whole-organ magnetic resonance imaging scores (P = .02), as well as greater bone marrow degeneration (P = .04).

After adjusting for BMI variation, patients who had lost weight but were not weight cyclers had significantly smaller changes in their maximum cartilage scores (P = .004) and meniscus scores (P = .02) compared with controls. In addition, those who had only gained weight and were not cyclers showed no significant differences in meniscus changes compared with controls.

Furthermore, weight cyclers showed no significant differences in terms of the rates of change in cartilage thickness on T2 values compared with non-cyclers.

“These results suggest that weight cycling may exacerbate progression of degenerative changes of cartilage and bone marrow, regardless of the amount of overall weight change,” said Dr. Joseph.

[Presentation title: Effect Of Weight Cycling on Progression of Knee Joint Degenerative Disease in Overweight and Obese Individuals: 4-Year MRI Data From the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Abstract 15]