Spotlight on Research 2010

May 2010 (historical)

Survey Reveals Drop in Prevalence of Most Common Bone Disease

Findings from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)-supported National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) suggest that the number of older adults with osteoporosis, a disease that makes bone less dense and prone to fracture, is declining in the United States. The results are consistent with those of recent studies reporting a drop in the rate of hip fractures – the most serious consequence of osteoporosis – but the reasons for these trends are not clear. The findings have been published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

NHANES began in the early 1960s and has been conducted as a series of surveys focusing on different population groups or health topics. In 1999, the survey became a continuous program that has a changing focus on a variety of health and nutrition measurements to meet emerging needs. NHANES data are used to determine the prevalence of major diseases and associated risk factors.

The first nationally representative data on the prevalence of osteoporosis were collected in NHANES III (1988-94). Proximal femur bone mineral density (BMD) measurements were included in NHANES again starting in 2005 in order to provide more current estimates of osteoporosis in the U.S. population and to see if the level of osteoporosis had changed since the 1990s. Both surveys can provide estimates of the prevalence of osteoporosis/low bone mineral density based on the femur neck- the skeletal site on which the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of osteoporosis is based. They also provide prevalence estimates based on BMD of the total hip, the skeletal site used for the osteoporosis objective in Healthy People 2010.

In the current study, Anne Looker, Ph.D., and her colleagues used femur BMD data from NHANES 2005-2006 to estimate the prevalence of osteoporosis/low bone mineral density in U.S. adults age 50 and older. An analysis revealed that 10 percent of women and 2 percent of men had osteoporosis, while 49 percent of women and 30 percent of men had low bone mineral density (osteopenia). Compared with NHANES III (1988-1994), osteoporosis prevalence was seven points lower in women and three points lower in men. While Looker and her team point out that the apparent reduction in prevalence achieves Healthy People 2010 osteoporosis target goals for the U.S. population, they caution that the prevalence of the disease remains high.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States. The survey is unique in that it combines interviews and physical examinations. NHANES is a major program of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). NCHS is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has the responsibility for producing vital and health statistics for the Nation. NIAMS co-funds the NHANES DXA component. For more information about NHANES, visit

Healthy People 2010 is a set of health objectives for the Nation to achieve over the first decade of the new century. It builds on initiatives pursued over the past two decades. The 1979 Surgeon General's Report, Healthy People, and Healthy People 2000: National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives, both established national health objectives and served as the basis for the development of State and community plans. Like its predecessors, Healthy People 2010 was developed through a broad consultation process, built on the best scientific knowledge and designed to measure programs over time.

The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health (NIH), is to support research into the causes, treatment, and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases; the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research; and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about NIAMS, call the information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS Web site at For more information about osteoporosis, call the NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center at (202) 223-0344 or (800) 624-2663 (free call) or visit

# # #

Looker AC, Melton LJ 3rd, Harris TB, Borrud LG, Shepherd JA. Prevalence and trends in low femur bone density among older US adults: NHANES 2005-2006 compared with NHANES III. J Bone Miner Res. 2010 Jan;25(1):64-71.