Women 50 years of age and older now represent nearly two out of five females in the United States and a growing population at greater risk for osteoporosis. This condition results in gradual bone loss that can lead to crippling fractures. There are currently about 23 million women with bone loss at risk of osteoporotic fractures.
Prevention of osteoporosis has become more important as women's health has gained in priority (see Focus), as the female population continues to age, and as treatment costs climb. Treating osteoporotic fractures costs more than $38 million per day-$14 billion a year and growing.
Today, osteoporosis prevention spans all age groups, incorporates new research, and encompasses many public and private organizations. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first new drug, alendronate (Fosamax®), to prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal women since estrogen was okayed 8 years ago. For postmenopausal women, prevention choices also include calcium supplementation and keeping active. Younger women who practice healthy lifestyles, including regular weight-bearing exercise and proper nutrition with adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, can have a major impact on osteoporosis prevention.
Like other women's health issues, the emphasis is on taking action today to prevent osteoporosis tomorrow. The search for new solutions continues, too. Researchers are exploring causes of osteoporosis and risk factors, new prevention and treatment drugs, new screening and detection technologies, fall and fracture prevention behaviors, and issues related to preventing osteoporosis as a secondary or comorbid condition. Researchers also are examining the needs of specific populations, including minority groups, men, and high-risk groups such as young female athletes, people with anorexia, and people taking medications that may compromise their bones.
What women of all ages and their health caregivers need is information to make decisions about what forms of osteoporosis prevention are best for themselves, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT) (see In the Literature). Some women avoid even considering the tradeoffs of HRT because their fear of breast cancer is unproportional to its risk: breast cancer accounts for 4 percent of deaths in women, but heart disease, which HRT may help to prevent, causes 33 percent of the deaths of women in this country.
Increasingly, getting much-needed health information to women depends on public/private partnerships, such as the Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. The resource center is operated by the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) with a grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletel and Skin Diseases in collaboration with the Paget Foundation and Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation. The center has been established with public funds and knowledge coupled with private sector knowledge, history of information services, and energy. NOF has a strong science base and promotes research on the epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment of osteoporosis.
The resource center has a toll-free number (800-624-BONE). Web sites (http://www.osteo.org and http://www.nof.org) provide information to health professionals, patients, and the public. A number of other web sites provide information on osteoporosis.
NOF has also partnered with the U.S. Public Health Service's Office on Women's Health in an Osteoporosis Education Campaign targeting adolescent girls to raise awareness of the disease and preventive behaviors.
Osteoporosis prevention and treatment efforts also are taking place at State and local levels. In January, NOF joined with the New York City Department of Health and the New York City Commission on the Status of Women to publish A Resource Guide to Osteoporosis Services in New York City. In October, NOF, Eli Lilly and Company, and the shopping centers of Ere Yarmouth sponsored "America Walks for Strong Women" in six cities to raise awareness in women about osteoporosis prevention.
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