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Arnold School of Public Health

UofSC Prevention Research Center wins CDC grant to test phone-based walking program to improve arthritis

September 25, 2021 | Erin Bluvas,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have awarded $1.2 million to researchers at the UofSC Prevention Research Center to lead a three-year special interest project to improve arthritis through a phone-based walking program. Principal investigator Christine Pellegrini, an assistant professor in the Department of Exercise Science, and co-investigator Sara Wilcox, a professor in the same department and director for the PRC, will partner with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s SNAP-Ed program and the South Carolina Department on Aging. 

As the leading cause of disability in the United States, arthritis affects more than 54 million adults – a population projected to increase to 78 million by 2040. Many of these individuals experience severe pain, lower quality of life, and physical limitations while approximately 24 million of them are limited in their activities.

Women, African Americans, adults who are unable to work, and individuals with obesity, heart disease or diabetes are more likely to be affected by these limitations. Economically, arthritis results in hundreds of billions of dollars in medical care and earnings losses.

Research has shown that regular physical activity has positive impacts for individuals with arthritis. Rheumatology and professional organizations recommend regular aerobic physical activity as an effective strategy for improving pain, physical function, quality of life, psychological wellness and fatigue, and the Healthy People 2030 objectives aim to increase the proportion of adults with arthritis who receive counseling for physical activity/exercise. Fortunately, several CDC-recognized programs (e.g., Walk with Ease) have been proven to be effective strategies for improving symptoms of arthritis.

“Despite the availability of effective evidence-based programs for increasing physical activity for this population, almost half of adults with arthritis are insufficiently active or do not participate in any leisure physical activity,” Pellegrini says. “Many populations face barriers that interfere with their ability to participate in face-to-face programs. Some of these challenges include transportation, community mobility, mental health, low socioeconomic status, and symptoms related to the arthritis itself.”

To overcome these barriers, researchers have adapted CDC-recommended community programs to alternate delivery formats. Walk with Ease, for example, has been offered as a self-directed program and through an online format. However, initial evaluations of these delivery methods have revealed that many groups continue to struggle to successfully participate in the program. A new set of barriers emerged, including limited/lack of internet access and the absence of accountability through frequent contact.

With this new project, Pellegrini and Wilcox will test the effectiveness of a phone-based format for delivering Walk with Ease. The research team will recruit 300 participants (at least 50 percent of them ages 18-64 from low socioeconomic status backgrounds) who will be randomly assigned to either start the six-week Walk with Ease program immediately or at one year.

“We believe that phone-based delivery of Walk with Ease may be an effective format to reach many hard-to-reach populations, including those with low socioeconomic status,” Pellegrini says. “Previous research has shown phone-based programs to effectively change health behaviors such as physical activity and diet. Further, home-based contacts are often preferred, are low cost, have less burden, and show strong potential for scalability.”

To learn more about this study or determine if you are eligible to participate, contact Christine Pellegrini at


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