Sally Field Brings Osteoporosis to Center Stage

'Norma Rae' star takes on another fight, this time for bone health

Alan Mozes

Alan Mozes

Published on April 21, 2006

FRIDAY, April 21, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- After a lifetime on the big and small screen, Sally Field is taking on a new starring role: front woman for the effort to raise awareness about the perils of osteoporosis.

"Last year I was diagnosed with osteoporosis," said Field, 59, who looked fresh and energized as she spoke Thursday in her hotel suite in New York City. "I was over 50, Caucasian, thin, small-framed, and I have it in my genetic history. It was almost a slam-dunk."

Motivated by her own experience with the disease, the actress who began her career as beach-blanket babe Gidget in the early 1960s, soared to further TV stardom as The Flying Nun, then nabbed two Best Actress Oscars (for 1979's Norma Rae and 1984's Places in the Heart), announced Thursday she is partnering with drug manufacturers F. Hoffmann-La Roche and GlaxoSmithKline to launch the "Rally with Sally For Bone Health" campaign.

The two companies are the co-marketers of Boniva (ibandronate sodium), an osteoporosis medication.

Through a website ( and a toll-free number (877-BoneHealth), the project is asking at-risk women to join Field in a signed pledge to improve their bone health. The pledge involves five steps: taking sufficient calcium and vitamin D; choosing and maintaining an osteoporosis drug regimen; exercising regularly; visiting a physician regularly, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol.

Field, who was born to a show-business family in Pasadena, Calif., said her familiarity with osteoporosis came early, as she watched the disease take its toll on her beloved "Grandma Gin."

"She was all bent over from osteoporosis, so my doctor was watching me for it. And then last year my bone density took a steep dive," Field said.

"I am very fortunate that I have a doctor looking out for me," she added. "And women have to know that this is a silent disease. I never would have known otherwise. I'm so vigorous, and I so take it for granted, because I've always been a real physical person. But I was losing so much bone density that I would have been in grave danger. And I mean grave danger. If I had let it go just a few more years I could have broken my hip or spine just picking up my granddaughter."

Field, the mother of three grown sons, said she has no intention of letting that happen -- or letting osteoporosis slow her down. Her youngest son will be heading off to college this fall, she said, leaving her an "empty nester" for the first time. But the actress is hopeful that this new change in her life will allow her more opportunity to return to a great love, the theater.

Besides that, Field said she's recently taken on new on-screen projects (as yet unnamed) as an actor, producer, writer and director. Fans can also look forward to seeing her again this fall as she reprises her Emmy-winning role on NBC's E.R.

Field is saving some of her energy to fighting osteoporosis, however, encouraging other women to stay active and healthy by seeking out the help they need.

"I realized that there has, in the past, been this attitude of patting women over the head and saying: 'Aw honey, this is part of the aging process,'" she said. "But you know what? It's not part of the aging process. It does not need to happen. And women have to know that there are medications now that really, really work."

Those medications include, but are certainly not limited to, once-a-month Boniva. Each drug has its pros and cons, so "you and your doctor need to choose what's right for you," Field said.

Osteoporosis develops when bone begins to break down much faster than it is replaced by the body.

According to the Foundation for Osteoporosis Research and Education (FORE), 44 million Americans -- 80 percent of them women -- now face the prospect of serious bone loss. Ten million patients are already diagnosed with the illness, while another 34 million suffer from low bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis.

If left unchecked, this progressive and initially painless disease leads to increasing bone fragility that can ultimately result in fractures -- most commonly of the hip, spine and wrist. Height loss, severe back pain and long-term disability can result, often requiring hospitalization and surgery.

Dr. Robin K. Dore, a clinical professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles, joined the "Rally" launch to offer an expert take on the disease.

"If you have lost bone mass, you need to be on medicine, and you're not going to know that until you get a bone-density test," Dore said. The test is fast, painless, and covered by most insurance, including Medicare.

Beverley Tracewell, FORE's program director, applauded Field's involvement and the campaign as a whole.

"Whenever we can get raised awareness, it's a win for everyone," said Tracewell, whose non-profit organization has no direct involvement with either the "Rally with Sally" campaign or the promotion of any particular osteoporosis treatment. "Everybody needs to get involved in reversing the trends of a disease that is preventable," she said.

"We're really delighted to have someone of Sally Field's age speak out," she added, "because a lot of times people wait too long -- until they have a fracture, until their 70's or 80's, when it's almost a case of too-little, too-late."

More information

For more on osteoporosis, head to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Read this Next
About UsOur ProductsCustom SolutionsHow it’s SoldOur ResultsDeliveryContact UsBlogPrivacy PolicyFAQ