No bones about it

30 September 2011

Australia's osteoporosis problem is huge.

Almost six per cent of men and 23 per cent of women over 50 in Australia are suffering with osteoporosis, according to figures from a Deakin University health study.

Researchers with Deakin’s School of Medicine based at Barwon Health have reported results from the Geelong Osteoporosis Studyin the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.

The study, involving 1500 men and 1500 women aged between 20 and 97 years, revealed the rate of osteoporosis in Australia.

“Our results show that bone mineral density decreases to concerningly low levels in many Australians over the age of 50,” explained Deakin’s Associate Professor Julie Pasco.

“Osteopenia—lower than normal bone mineral density considered to be a precursor to osteoporosis—was reported in 56 per cent of men over 50 years old and 48 per cent for women.

“Osteoporosis, where bone mineral density drops to such low levels that the bones become brittle, was found to affect almost six per cent of men and 23 per cent of women over 50.”

The researchers found high rates of osteoporosis in the over 80 age group.

“There is definitely an age-related increase in the prevalence of osteoporosis in both men and women,” study co-author Associate Professor Mark Kotowicz said.

“While it is more of a problem for women, with half of those over 80 affected, large numbers of men also develop the condition, with 18.5 per cent of the elderly men in the study living with osteoporosis.”

The brittle bones associated with osteoporosis increase the risk for fracture, particularly of the hip, spine and wrist. Such fractures cause pain, significant disability and sometimes death, Associate ProfessorPasco said.

“Osteoporosis is a major public health problem that often remains undetected until a fracture occurs,” she said.

“If the bones are fragile, fractures can occur easily, even as a result of a cough or a hug. Yet few people are aware of osteoporosis and how debilitating it can be.

“There is a need to raise awareness of the disease in the community and among healthcare professionals. If low bone mineral density is detected, steps can be taken to help improve bone health.”

About the Geelong Osteoporosis Study

The Geelong Osteoporosis Study (GOS) started in 1993. It is a population-based study designed to investigate osteoporosis and identify risk factors for fracture.

The study has recruited large cohorts of men and women who were selected at random from electoral rolls. The participants attend the study centre at Barwon Health every few years and are monitored for their overall health, diseases and lifestyle choices over time.

The GOS also uses radiology reports to identify all fractures that occur in the Barwon Statistical Division (the region surrounding Geelong, with a population of 259,000). This information is used to determine how many fractures occur in the region and describe how fracture rates are changing over time. 

Associate Professor Julie Pasco Associate Professor Julie Pasco

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