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Knee Osteoarthritis Origins

August 15, 2017

Old skeletons provide new insights into the causes of osteoarthritis.



Unravelling a knee mystery. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Common wisdom holds that painful osteoarthritis of the knee is a growing problem because people today live longer, weigh more and wear their knees out. Harvard paleoanthropologist Ian Wallace examined skeletons ranging in age from 6000 years old to modern times and reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that even after accounting for age and body mass index, the condition doubled in prevalence starting in the 1950s.

IAN WALLACE (Harvard University):

We can ask ourselves well, what changed in the 1950s that might be important here? And the two most conspicuous candidates are physical inactivity and pro-inflammatory foods in our diet, like sugars and things like that.


If he’s right, it means the painful disorder doesn’t naturally arise from the wear and tear of living, and making lifestyle changes could reduce its prevalence. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon