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Many Women Not Doing Enough to Prevent Osteoporosis

Washington DC, 5 May 2004
Source: National Women's Health Resource Center

Former Governor Ann Richards Teams with National Women's Health Resource Center to Launch 'Keep Your Inches Campaign'

Despite fears of breaking bones, developing a hunched back or losing mobility as a result of osteoporosis, 59 percent of women over age 40 have not asked their doctor about their bone health or had a bone mineral density (BMD) test, according to a survey released today by the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC).

The number of women who are not taking simple preventative steps against osteoporosis is a concern considering that the disease is highly preventable and treatable. If osteoporosis is left untreated, the disease causes bones to become fragile (or weak) and more likely to break. In fact, today, one in two women over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime [1].

That is why former Texas Governor Ann Richards is leading the charge to help women fight osteoporosis—she has learned firsthand how serious the disease can be. Despite watching her mother, father and grandmother suffer from osteoporosis, Governor Richards did not speak with her doctor about her personal risk until she began to suffer from the onset of the disease.

"First, my collars did not seem to fit right anymore and began creeping up my neck. It was then that I realized I might be shrinking," said Governor Richards. "After I broke two bones in my left hand, I asked my doctor for a BMD test. I was diagnosed with osteopenia, the early stages of osteoporosis, which I have been dedicated to overcoming ever since."

To educate women about osteoporosis and the steps they can take to prevent the disease, Governor Richards has teamed up with the NWHRC for a nationwide awareness initiative called the "Keep Your Inches Campaign" or KIC Osteoporosis, a reference to the loss of height often associated with the disease.

"It is critical that women who are postmenopausal realize that they are automatically at risk for osteoporosis," said Amy Niles, president and CEO, NWHRC. "If they have additional risk factors, such as family history of osteoporosis, they are at an even greater risk. However, there are steps women can take to reduce their risk for the disease, and it all begins with knowing their personal risk factors and beginning a dialogue with their healthcare professional."

It Won't Affect Me!

The survey also found that while most of the women surveyed know about the severe consequences of osteoporosis, most women do not relate this information to their own health. In fact, 65 percent of women are aware that osteoporosis can be deadly, but only one percent are concerned about dying from the disease.

"Most women do not understand the implications of having osteoporosis," said Ethel Siris, MD, professor and clinical director of the Osteoporosis Prevention and Treatment Center at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. "We know today that untreated osteoporosis may result in devastating fractures as people age."

Furthermore, while approximately 90 percent of women had at least one contributing risk factor for osteoporosis, almost two-thirds do not believe they are at risk for the disease. According to the survey, the top four osteoporosis risk factors that respondents identified were:

  • Menopausal or post-menopausal (67 percent)
  • Small body frame (35 percent)
  • Cigarette smoking (25 percent)
  • Family history of osteoporosis (22 percent)

Lifestyle Changes and Beyond

Nearly all women surveyed (90 percent) are taking some form of calcium supplement for bone loss protection. However, in the postmenopausal years, taking calcium may not be enough. Further discussions with a healthcare provider are important in identifying additional measures that women need to take to ensure they are protected from osteoporosis.

Although there is no known cure for osteoporosis, there are steps women can take to reduce their risk for the disease including dietary changes, exercise and prescription medications.

"A recent study about estrogen, called the Women's Health Initiative, has led many women to discontinue hormone replacement therapy, leaving them at increased risk for bone loss," continued Dr. Siris. "While all women need adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, some women may need additional protective benefits against bone loss and osteoporosis. This is a decision that must be made between a woman and her healthcare professional following a complete evaluation, which involves a bone density test."

For women who need more protective benefits, there are several prescription medications available to slow or stop bone loss, increase bone density and reduce fracture risk.

Women can get more information about osteoporosis and its treatments, as well as a downloadable KIC Checklist, by visiting www.healthywomen.org. The KIC checklist helps women assess their risk for osteoporosis and provides a list of questions to guide a discussion with their healthcare professional.

About the Survey

ICR/International Communications Research conducted a telephone omnibus survey of 1,008 American women ages 40 and older. The purpose of the KIC survey was to determine women's perceptions of and treatment behaviors surrounding osteoporosis and bone health.

About National Women's Health Resource Center

The National Women's Health Resource Center is the nation's leading independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to educating women of all ages about health and wellness issues. Its programs include an award-winning newsletter, the National Women's Health Report, public education campaigns and its website, www.healthywomen.org.

The "Keep Your Inches Campaign" was developed in collaboration with Eli Lilly and Company. Ann Richards is a paid spokesperson for Eli Lilly and Company.


[1] National Osteoporosis Foundation, www.NOF.org.


National Women's Health Resource Center, www.healthywomen.org.end-of-story


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