Surgeon General Warns of Bone Break Epidemic

Half of those over 50 to be at osteoporosis risk if nothing's done

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HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Oct. 14, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- An epidemic of broken bones caused by osteoporosis is inevitable unless older Americans start getting the calcium, vitamin D and physical activity needed to prevent it, the U.S. Surgeon General warned today.

Half of all Americans older than 50 will run the risk of fractures from osteoporosis by 2020 unless they do the right things, Dr. Richard H. Carmona, the Surgeon General, said in Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General.

The report included ominous statistics: 10 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis, another 34 million are at risk of developing the condition, and 1.5 million Americans suffer an osteoporosis-related bone fracture every year.

The cost of those fractures is high in money and lives, the report said. About 20 percent of older people who have hip fractures die within a year, some 300,000 people are hospitalized every year with hip fractures, and the direct costs of osteoporotic fractures is $18 billion a year.

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

The report is the first by the Surgeon General on bone health. It warns that not only osteoporosis but also other bone-weakening conditions such as Paget's disease can take a severe toll on the quality of life of older people.

"This report will shape the way we approach, talk and act about bone diseases," Tommy G. Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, added in the statement. "The more we learn, the more we realize that so many diseases are preventable, from obesity to many types of cancer and now bone disease."

Older people and their doctors should be alert for the warning signs of bone trouble, said Dr. Lawrence Raisz of the University of Connecticut Health Center, one of the scientific editors of the report.

"Many of my patients had no idea their minor fracture was an indication of a larger problem," Raisz said. "The health-care system can do a better job of helping patients protect themselves from bone disease."

The report included recommendations on ways to maintain bone health:

  • Avoid overweight and engage in physical activity every day -- at least 30 minutes daily for adults and 60 minutes for children, including weight-bearing activities.
  • Look around the home and minimize the risk of falls by removing items that might cause tripping, improve lighting and get regular vision tests.
  • Eat foods rich in calcium, such as milk, green leafy vegetables, soybeans, yogurt and cheese, and get vitamin D by exposure to sunlight and consumption of fortified milk and other foods. Supplements can help achieve the desired intake of 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 200 international units of vitamin D per day for adults under 50.

One study conducted for McNeil Nutritionals, the makers of Viactiv supplements, found that only 23 percent of women were aware that they should have at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.

Those measures are especially important for older women, said Dr. Steven R. Goldstein, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University School of Medicine, because "we just went through an era when women thought that hormone therapy would keep them young forever. Now we know that isn't so. Women who have come off hormone therapy now are at increased risk of bone loss."

The Surgeon General's report "reiterates what physicians like myself have known for decades, that preservation of bone density and bone health is important as a person ages," Goldstein said.

More information

The report is available from the U.S. Surgeon General.

SOURCES: Oct. 14, 2004, prepared statements from Richard H. Carmona, M.D., U.S. Surgeon General; Tommy G. Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services; Lawrence Raisz, M.D., University of Connecticut Health Center; Steven R. Goldstein, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology, New York University School of Medicine, New York Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General

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