Don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more media and patient buzz about osteoarthritis (OA) in the coming months.
This month the Arthritis Foundation (AF), in collaboration with the Ad Council, launched a $2.1-million ad campaign to educate the public about OA. The campaign, targeting people age 55 years and older, primarily focuses on self-care measures, such as losing weight and exercising, that those with OA can use to manage their disease. The campaign also directs the public to the AF’s Web site for more information. “This effort is to increase awareness of the most common form of arthritis,” says John Klippel, MD, president and CEO of the AF.
Even though OA may be the most common form of arthritis, it is also frequently misunderstood and undiagnosed. “There are 27 million people with OA that is doctor diagnosed, and probably another 47 million people who have undiagnosed OA,” says Patience White, MD, chief public health officer for the AF. “It’ll grow exponentially as the silver tsunami—the Baby Boomers—gets older.” In fact, more than 40 million people are projected to have OA by the year 2030, she adds.
OA is the most common cause of disability and joint failure or replacement, says Dr. Klippel. Those who suffer from it often experience a lessened quality of life, he adds. Many people whose joints ache from OA, however, may incorrectly think they have another form of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This situation can lead to confusion and even the wrong approach to treatment. In actuality, there are only 1.3 million people with RA, according to the AF, Dr. White notes.
A large aging population and the common misperception that joint aches are inevitable due to aging or other types of arthritis are two reasons behind the need for an OA campaign, Dr. White says. “Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, but it’s the one with the most myths about it,” she notes.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, but it’s the one with the most myths about it.
—Patience White, MD
The campaign launching this month will feature TV, radio, print, and billboard public service announcements, made possible by approximately $44 million of donated media, Dr. White says. The actual campaign is supported by $2.1 million of upfront funds raised by the AF—including $450,000 donated by the ACR.
“Our board felt this campaign was important to increase awareness for all types of arthritis, along with OA, with the end result that patients seek input about lifestyle changes or treatments that may improve their ability to manage their symptomatology,” says ACR President Stanley B. Cohen, MD, medical director of the Metroplex Clinical Research Center and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.
AF representatives worked collaboratively with the Ad Council, which selects groups that it believes have worthy messages for the public. Then, the Ad Council taps into the expertise and creativity of ad executives from a variety of well-known ad agencies, such as Young & Rubicam, to create campaigns, Dr. White says. Previous Ad Council campaigns that are particularly famous include, “Loose lips sink ships,” Smokey the Bear’s “Only you can prevent forest fires,” and “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.”
The OA ad campaign will also have a catchy slogan: “Moving is the best medicine.” The ads that were designed “grab your attention,” Dr. White says. “The print ads are fun, clear, and clean.”
What’s also unique is that they focus on what patients can do for themselves to alleviate joint aches and pains. “From a public health perspective, this is the group that can do the most for themselves. With RA, patients can use certain drugs. With OA, maybe someday patients will be able to take certain drugs, but for now, the most important thing is weight loss and physical activity,” Dr. White says. The ads convey this message with visuals and information, such as the fact that each additional pound gained adds four pounds of pressure on each knee, she says.
Drs. White and Klippel also believe that the public will gain valuable information by visiting the Web site featured as part of the campaign, www.fightarthritispain.org. The site will feature patient-friendly information about OA and other types of arthritis, information on exercise videos and other resources available through the AF, and answers to questions such as whether or not it is safe to exercise with joint pain. Visitors to the site can also take a 12-question risk assessment for OA. Using the assessment, patients can determine if they are at low, medium, or high risk for OA.
The three-year campaign will be underway in full force this year and then will rest for one year. Then, the campaign will launch again in 2012. The campaign is tracking public awareness of OA both before and after the campaign.
The OA ad campaign launch coincides with a joint effort of the AF and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bring a national public health focus on OA, Dr. White says.
A Patient’s Perspective
Pam Snow, a patient with OA, believes strongly in the message behind the campaign. “If you don’t move, you lose,” says Snow, a volunteer with the AF who lives in Warner Robins, Ga. Although she has not seen the final campaign, she was part of a group of people consulted during the development of the campaign’s message.
After playing tennis in high school, wearing three- to four-inch heels regularly, and running a marathon at the age of 41—followed by two knee surgeries—Snow realized the value of weight loss and movement to prevent OA symptoms. She lost 34 pounds after her two surgeries and became active again. “I have four grandchildren, and one on the way. I want to get on the floor and play with them,” she says.
Because she commonly uses the AF’s resources in her volunteer work, she hopes the campaign will spark a greater interest from physicians and the public in the variety of helpful information available through the AF. “You don’t have to live with the pain,” she says. “You have to educate yourself and follow your regimen.”
The Campaign in Your Practice
Although the campaign does not prompt those who think they have OA to see a rheumatologist—doing so would overwhelm the health care system, Dr. Klippel says—those involved with the campaign do think the campaign helps with patient education. “The campaign will focus on osteoarthritis, but I‘m hopeful with the Web links to the AF and ACR, it will allow patients to enhance their knowledge about all forms of arthritis, not only OA,” Dr. Cohen says.
ACR board member Christy Sandborg, MD, professor of pediatrics and chief of pediatric rheumatology at Lucile Packard Childrens’ Hospital at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif., also sees a strong value in the campaign. “The campaign has good information for my friends, my family, and me,” Dr. Sandborg says, adding that she is reaching an age during which OA is more common. As a pediatric rheumatologist, she says the campaign also provides information to help her patients prevent OA in the future.
Vanessa Caceres is a medical writer and editor in Florida.