Half of Older Adults at Risk for Osteoporosis

New surgeon general report warns of bone health risks

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 14, 2004 -- Half of all Americans over 50 may be at risk for broken bones caused by osteoporosis and low bone mass by 2020 if they don't take action to protect their bone health, according to a new surgeon general report.

The report warns that 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and 34 million are at risk for the bone-weakening disease.

The first report on bone health issued by the surgeon general says osteoporosis and other bone diseases can trigger a downward spiral in physical health and quality of life, such as loss of the ability to walk, stand up, and dress yourself, and can lead to early death.

Findings of the bone health report include:

  • About 20% of senior citizens who suffer a hip fracture die within a year of fracture.
  • About 20% of individuals with a hip fracture end up in a nursing home within a year.
  • Hip fractures account for 300,000 hospitalizations each year.
  • The direct-care costs for osteoporosis-related fractures are $18 billion each year. That number is expected to increase if action to prevent osteoporosis is not taken now.

"Osteoporosis isn't just your grandmother's disease. We all need to take better care of our bones," says Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, MD, MPH, in a news release. "The good news is that you are never too old or too young to improve your bone health. With healthy nutrition, physical activity every day, and regular medical checkups and screenings, Americans of all ages can have strong bones and live longer, healthier lives."

Bone Health at Risk

Researchers say osteoporosis is often a "silent" disease because people are often unaware their bone health is at risk until after a fracture occurs.

The report recommends bone density tests for women over the age of 65 and for any man or women who suffers a bone fracture after the age of 50. Researchers say one of the most dangerous myths about osteoporosis is that it's a woman's disease, but it affects both men and women of all races.

"If it's diagnosed in time, osteoporosis can be treated with new drugs that help prevent bone loss and rebuild bone before life-threatening fractures occur," says Carmona.

The report recommends that adults take action to improve and maintain their bone health by taking the following steps:

  • Get the recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is found in milk, leafy green vegetables, soybeans, yogurt, and cheese. Vitamin D is produced in the skin by exposure to the sun and is found in fortified milk and other foods. The average adult under 50 needs about 1,000 mg of calcium per day (that's three servings of milk or other dairy foods and 200 international units (IU) of vitamin D (one cup of vitamin D-fortified milk provides 302 mg of calcium and 50 IU of vitamin D). Pregnant women and adults over 50 should have 1,200 mg of calcium daily.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active at least 30 minutes a day for adults and 60 minutes a day for children, including weight-bearing activities to improve strength and balance.
  • Minimize the risk of falls by removing items that might cause tripping and improving lighting, and get regular exercise and vision tests to improve balance and coordination.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Medical News Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on October 25, 2004


SOURCES: "Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General." News release, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

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