UNC helps establish the first National Public Health Agenda for Osteoarthritis

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 — Leigh Callahan, Ph.D., a member of UNC’s Thurston Arthritis Research Center, has been working as part of the 12-member steering committee for the past two years to develop this new initiative. The agenda makes 10 recommendations designed to dramatically reduce the impact of osteoarthritis on Americans.

UNC helps establish the first National Public Health Agenda for Osteoarthritis click to enlarge Leigh Callahan, Ph.D.

Betty Isaacs of Boone, N.C., knows all about the chronic pain of osteoarthritis and the impact it has on her life.  “The pain in my knee was so bad, I would just sit around,” Isaacs said.

Last year, Isaacs participated in the Walk with Ease program administered through the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center and developed by the Arthritis Foundation.  Walk With Ease is designed to help participants develop a walking plan, stay motivated and learn to exercise safely. 

“This was a real meaningful program for me,” said Isaacs, who has knee OA and was overweight.  “They start you out little by little and increase you at your our pace and give you so much encouragement.  I walked even on the days that I was not in the program.” 

Isaacs exercise program is precisely what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Arthritis Foundation had in mind when they launched the first National Public Health Agenda for Osteoarthritis, said Leigh Callahan, Ph.D., associate professor in the departments of Medicine, Social Medicine and Orthopaedics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Callahan, a member of UNC’s Thurston Arthritis Research Center, has been working as part of the 12-member steering committee for the past two years to develop this new initiative. The agenda makes 10 recommendations designed to dramatically reduce the impact of osteoarthritis on Americans.  

More than 27 million adults have OA and this number is expected rise as baby boomers reach retirement age.  It is expected that half of all adults will develop symptomatic OA of the knee at some point in their lives.  The socioeconomic impact from the pain and disability of OA results in 11 million physician and outpatient visits annually?; hospitalizations and joint replacements cost $22.6 billion a year.  Unemployment and work limitations cost another estimated $3.4 to $13.2 billion per year.

Ten years ago, Callahan was part of the working group that developed the National Arthritis Action Plan.  “The impact of that plan was enormous,” Callahan says. “It essentially became the CDC’s blueprint for  their arthritis program, whose primary goal is to improve quality of life for people with arthritis. They achieve this goal through building programs, reaching the public, improving the science base, measuring the burden of arthritis and collaborating with partners to make policy and systems changes.”

“I hope this new initiative has a similar impact,” Callahan said. “The National Public Health Agenda for Osteoarthritis recommends four intervention strategies to address OA: expanding self-management education, increasing physical activity, injury prevention, and weight management. If carried out successfully, they hold great promise for improving the lives of individuals with OA and ultimately reducing the tremendous burden of this condition.”

Isaacs was ahead of the national curve, but she continues to walk everyday at the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center in Boone. She said that she has only occasional pain in her knee now and she proudly states that she has lost 80 pounds.

The UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center has had a significant global impact on OA research by contributing to the science, and in North Carolina, especially through the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project, which has received continuous funding from the CDC for 20 years. 

Media contact: Clinton Colmenares, (919) 923-1552, or ccolmena@unch.unc.edu

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