Academics in Nottingham are carrying out a study of up to 400 overweight and obese people to find out if losing weight and exercise will help reduce knee pain.
University of Nottingham epidemiologist Dr Ken Muir, who is leading the study, has been awarded a grant of £430,000 by the charity Arthritis Research Campaign (Arc) to run the trial.
The volunteers for the four-year study were recruited last month from GP surgeries and, if it can be proved weight loss and exercise are beneficial in reducing knee pain, a substantial amount of NHS cash could be saved in knee replacement surgery and drugs, said arc.
Muir said he believed obesity was the main risk factor for developing osteoarthritis of the knee. Between a quarter and a half of all knee osteoarthritis might be prevented by eliminating obesity, he added.
One group will undergo a weight loss programme, with the other given advice from an Arc booklet.
Half of both groups will be given an exercise programme to strengthen the quadricep muscles in their knees, which will involve stretching, walking up and downstairs and walking outdoors.
They will also be expected to reduce their snacking habits and portion sizes and cut down the fat in their diet.