Health Status > Health Indicators
Osteoporosis is the most common underlying cause
of fractures in the elderly, but it is not frequently diagnosed
or treated, even in individuals who have already suffered a fracture.
An estimated 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, while another
34 million have low bone mass and are at risk for developing osteoporosis;
80 percent of those affected are women. By 2020, an estimated one
in two Americans over age 50 will be at risk for osteoporosis and
low bone mass.
Each year about 1.5 million people suffer a bone
fracture related to osteoporosis, with the most common breaks in
the wrist, spine, and hip. Fractures can have devastating consequences.
For example, hip fractures are associated with an increased risk
of mortality, and nearly one in five hip fracture patients ends
up in a nursing home within a year. The direct care costs for osteoporotic
fractures alone are up to $18 billion each year.1
Osteoporosis may be prevented and treated by
getting the recommended amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and physical
activity, and by taking prescription medication when appropriate.
Calcium is found in diary foods, dark green vegetables, and fortified
foods such as oatmeal and cold cereal. Vitamin D is made by the
skin when it is exposed to the sun; however, getting sufficient
vitamin D in this manner is not practical for many people. Vitamin
D is also available in milk and other products that are fortified,
and through supplements. Frequent physical activity that puts stress
on the bones is also important. This should include regular physical
activity, strength training, and activities that help maintain balance.
Bone density tests are recommended for all women over 65 and for
any man or woman who suffers a fracture after the age of 50. Treatment
of osteoporosis has been shown to reduce the risk of subsequent
fractures by 30-65 percent.1 Despite this recommendation,
national data in 2004 indicate that only 19 percent of female Medicare
beneficiaries aged 67 years and older who had a fracture received
either a bone mineral density test or a prescription. Individual
plans’ rates were consistently low, with almost all plans
having osteoporosis management rates below 28.5 percent.
1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville,
MD: Office of the Surgeon General; 2004.