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Childhood physical activity may lead to stronger adult knee joint health

Key Message

Being more physically active and fit in childhood is linked to greater knee cartilage and tibial bone health in adulthood and can reduce the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis.



Menzies Research Institute. (2012). Childhood physical activity may lead to stronger adult knee joint health: Media Release. Hobart, Australia, Author.


Nearly one in five Australians has arthritis; indeed more Australians have arthritis than any other national health priority condition. In 2007, there was an estimated 3.85 million people (18.5 per cent of the Australia population) with arthritis. *

By 2050, it is projected there will be seven million Australians with arthritis. Osteoarthritis is predicted to remain the most prevalent arthritic condition, affecting 3.1 million Australians in 2050. *

Arthritis costs the Australian economy around $23.9 billion a year. *

The knee is the leading site of osteoarthritis. Knee osteoarthritis is caused by cartilage breakdown in the knee joint. Osteoarthritis is still considered an irreversible disease. Factors that increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis include obesity, age, prior injury to the knee, extreme stress to the joints, and family history. 

Chief investigator Associate Professor Changhai Ding, says that while physical activity in childhood is often recommended as a means to improve adult health, little evidence exists to illustrate the correlation between childhood physical performance measures and joint structure in adulthood later on. 

"The aim of the study was to determine if physical activity in childhood was associated with more knee cartilage and tibial bone area (the bone that forms the lower part of the knee joint) 25 years later," A/Prof Ding said.

Subjects were selected from the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health Study (CDAH) which was a 20-year follow-up of the Australian Schools Health and Fitness Survey (ASHFS) conducted in 1985.

In the 2008-2010 follow-up study, the 298 subjects, now aged between 31 - 41 years, underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. The participant's knee cartilage and tibial bone area were measured using the MRI results. Their corresponding childhood performance measures (7-15 years) were collected from the ASHFS of 1985. Adjustments were made for age, gender, body mass index and past joint injuries that may affect the cartilage or bone area.



The results showed that childhood physical performance measures, including physical work capacity, leg and hand muscle strength, sit-ups, and long and short runs had a significant association with greater tibial bone area. In addition, higher childhood physical work capacity measures were associated with greater tibial cartilage volume.

"A number of childhood physical performance measures were found to be significantly associated with increased knee bone area and cartilage volume in adulthood," A/Prof Ding said.


Benefit Statements / Outcomes

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  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

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  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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