A $3 million grant, from the National Institute of Aging, has been given to the University of Illinois at Chicago to analyze the effects of two community-based promotion programs for older people struggling with osteoarthritis.

Fit and Strong!, an evidence-based physical activity and health behavior change program, will be compared with Fit and Strong! Plus, a more traditional program with an added weight management/dietary component.

Older adults with osteoarthritis, the number one cause of disability in adults and the most common chronic condition, have shown that they benefit from Fit and Strong!

Susan Hughes, co-principal investigator of the project and co-director of the Center for Research on Health and Aging at UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy, explained:

“Fit and Strong! can improve joint stiffness, pain and function, anxiety/depression, lower extremity strength and gait speed and enhance maintenance of physical activity in older adults up to 18 months.”

Even though the traditional program has proven to have great effects, “we felt that we needed to address the underlying weight issues that cause or exacerbate lower extremity osteoarthritis,” said Hughes.

This new study will analyze 400 adults ages 60 and up with lower extremity osteoarthritis who have a body mass index between 25 and 50. The adults will be split in two groups, half in Fit and Strong! and the other half in Fit and Strong! Plus.

Participants in Fit and Strong! Plus will receive interactive sessions regarding diet and weight loss. By increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed, decreasing saturated fats and sugar sweetened drinks, learning to manage triggers that can lead to overeating, and reducing total calorie intake, researchers hope the participants will be able to achieve weight loss of at least 5%.

The weight loss component came from a successful weight loss trial that was conducted by Marian Fitzgibbon, co-principal researcher of the study and deputy director of UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy. Fitzgibbon, also a professor of medicine in the UIC College of Medicine, revealed:

“Participants who are randomly assigned to Fit and Strong! Plus will learn strategies to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables and whole grains as well as monitoring their food intake. Participants will also learn more about what may be triggers for overeating and mindless eating that can contribute to weight gain.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Administration on Aging highly recommends Fit and Strong!, developed by Hughes, which is now used at 54 sites in North Carolina, West Virginia, Florida, and Illinois.

The program consists of 60 minutes of exercise and 30 minutes of education 3 times a week for 8 weeks. The goal is to make exercise easy to do by developing different routines for different individuals, and reinforcing behaviors.

Billions of dollars are being spent by the U.S. on knee and hip replacements. Hughes, professor of community health sciences in the UIC School of Public Health, said that an effective and affordable solution needs to develop that can be implemented in the community.

In order to conduct the study at 3 different locations (Eckhart Park, Columbus Park, and Washington Park), UIC researchers will team up with the Chicago Park District. There will be nationally certified exercise instructors conducting the programming.

The experts will evaluate participants at 2, 6, 12, 18, and 24 months and assess weight loss, dietary changes, anxiety, depression, measurement of osteoarthritis symptoms, and exercise participation.

Medicare claims data will also be examined before and after the participants’ intervention in order to evaluate health care use and cost.

Written by Sarah Glynn