The number with osteopenia, or bone loss that's not as severe as osteoporosis, has climbed dramatically since 1977, said Marilyn Wright, an Extension Service food, health and nutrition specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
The 1977 NOF report said 28 million women and men over 55 had bone loss and 10 million had osteoporosis, Wright said. Of the 10 million with osteoporosis, 8 million were women and 2 million men. Those numbers haven't changed.
Bone-loss Numbers Skyrocket
The number of people estimated to have osteopenia, however, has leaped from 18 million in 1997 to 34 million now. Of that number, 22 million are women and 12 million men.
The report, titled "America's Bone Health: The State of Osteoporosis and Low Bone Mass in Our Nation," doesn't say why the increase in the number of people with osteopenia was so stunning.
But Wright suspects it's "very likely that the increased awareness of screening and/or diagnostic tools and insurance coverage of these have led to more folks being identified," she said. "And, of course, the increasing numbers of boomers age 55 or older."
High Medical Costs
The loss of bone density puts people at a higher risk of osteoporosis, which makes bones brittle and easy to break. The NOR report estimates medical costs for treating osteoporosis-related fractures at $17 billion per year.
The number of women with bone loss or osteoporosis is almost double that of men in all age categories.
"Men have advantages that help them avoid bone loss," Wright said. "First, they usually build more bone and muscle mass than women. So when bone loss starts in middle age, a majority of men have more to spare."
It may take decades of bone loss before men reach clinical low bone mass or osteoporosis. "But with men living longer," Wright added, "more will likely be diagnosed in the future."
Men do, however, have risk factors, most similar to those associated with women.
"Most men with bone loss have one or more habits that place them at risk: sedentary lifestyle, low calcium intake, smoking cigarettes, excessive alcohol intake," Wright said.
"Others have low testosterone levels or take medications, like corticosteroids, that cause bone loss," she said. "Men with prostate cancer treated with certain hormone agonists are susceptible to bone loss."
Many consider bone loss and osteoporosis to be a disease of old age. But Wright calls it a disease of geriatrics that begins in pediatrics.
Build, Keep Healthy Bones
"Adequate bone mass has to be laid down by adolescence or early adulthood so the body can handle the natural decline that starts in middle age," she said.
To build and keep healthy bones:
- Eat a balanced diet that's rich in vegetables and fruits and has enough calcium and vitamin D.
- Get regular weight-bearing exercise.
- Live a healthy lifestyle, with no smoking or excessive alcohol use.
- Have your bone density tested and take medications when appropriate.
May is National Osteoporosis Prevention Month. For more information visit www.nof.org. To learn more, visit these Web sites as well:
- www.cdc.gov/ powerfulbones/
- www.nichd.nih.gov/ milk/milk.cfm
(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)