Announcements for 2009

NIAMS Partners With CBS Cares and the Producers of HAIR on Osteoporosis Prevention Initiative

October 11, 2009 (historical)

Joan A. McGowan, Ph.D.

Joan A. McGowan, Ph.D.

Forty years ago very little was known about osteoporosis, a disease that makes bones weak and prone to fracture. Back then, osteoporosis was considered to be just a normal consequence of aging, and was viewed solely as a "woman's disease." Few risk factors for the disease had been identified, and a limited number of options were available to diagnose and treat it.

But things are different today. We now know that osteoporosis is largely preventable and that strong bones are critical to our overall health and quality of life.

With appropriate nutrition and physical activity throughout life, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of osteoporosis. Specifically, a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, weight-bearing activity, and a healthy lifestyle, can help keep bones strong. In addition, several treatments are now available that can reduce the likelihood of fracture in people at risk.

Over the past several decades, scientists have learned a significant amount about osteoporosis and bone health. Research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has greatly expanded our understanding of bone cell physiology, drug development, and risk factors for the disease. Nutrition and physical activity studies provide strong evidence that fractures can be prevented and bone loss reduced, even in older individuals. And we know now how preventing falls through exercise and simple home precautions can have a major impact on fracture prevention, even in those with frail bones.

Osteoporosis and related fractures have long been considered only to be a problem for older White women. This common misperception, shared by both the public and the medical profession alike, has undoubtedly delayed prevention and treatment in men and minorities who are not thought to be at risk for the disease. But we are learning more every day. NIH researchers are investigating factors leading to osteoporosis and fracture in minority women and men that will ultimately help target prevention strategies in these individuals.

Osteoporosis is often called a "pediatric disease with geriatric consequences." We know now that the bone mass attained in childhood and adolescence is an important determinant of lifelong skeletal health. The health habits our children are forming now can make, or literally break, their bones as they age. NIH scientists are identifying strategies that are yielding long-term skeletal benefits in our nation's children.

In the 1960s, the first-ever Surgeon General's report was released. Forty years later, the Surgeon General issued the first-ever report on our nation's bone health. In it, Vice Admiral Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H, F.A.C.S., warned that by 2020, half of all American citizens older than 50 will be at risk for fractures from osteoporosis and low bone mass if no immediate action is taken. As the Senior Scientific Editor of the Surgeon General's report, I will never tire of raising awareness about osteoporosis and related bone diseases.

I encourage you to become an active participant in your bone health. Please visit our Web site to learn more about osteoporosis and how to prevent and treat it. And remember, "You are never too old or too young to improve your bone health."

Joan A. McGowan, Ph.D.
Director, Division of Musculoskeletal Diseases