December 2004 Bulletin

Surgeon General issues report on nation’s bone health

Half of those older than 50 at risk for osteoporotic fractures

During the Bone and Joint Decade’s National Awareness Week, U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, MD, MPH, FACS, warned that half of all American citizens older than 50 years of age will be at risk for fractures from osteoporosis and low bone mass by 2020, if no immediate action is taken by individuals at risk, doctors, health systems and policymakers.

According to Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General, 10 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis, the most common bone disease, while another 34 million are at risk for developing osteoporosis. Each year, roughly 1.5 million people suffer a bone fracture related to osteoporosis.

The report was the first-ever by the Surgeon General’s office on the topic of bone health. It noted that osteoporosis and other bone diseases, such as Paget’s disease and osteogenesis imperfecta, can lead to a downward spiral in physical health and quality of life, including losing the ability to walk, stand up or get dressed, and can lead to premature death.

In response to the report, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson said, “The more we learn, the more we realize that so many diseases are preventable, from obesity, to many types of cancer, and now bone disease. I look forward to the impact this new information will make in the health of communities.”

Other findings

According to the report, osteoporosis is a “silent” condition because many Americans are unaware that their bone health is in jeopardy. In fact, four times as many men and nearly three times as many women have osteoporosis than report having the condition. The report also debunks the myth that only women need to worry about bone health.

Other findings in the report include:

“Osteoporosis isn’t just your grandmother’s disease. We all need to take better care of our bones,” said Dr. Carmona. “With healthy nutrition, physical activity every day and regular medical check-ups and screenings, Americans of all ages can have strong bones and live longer, healthier lives. Likewise, if it’s diagnosed in time, osteoporosis can be treated with new drugs that help prevent bone loss and rebuild bone before life-threatening fractures occur.”

The report also includes recommendations on what Americans can do to decrease the likelihood of developing osteoporosis. These recommendations range from getting enough calcium and vitamin D to maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active at least 30 minutes a day for adults and 60 minutes a day for children.

The report also calls on health care professionals to help Americans maintain healthy bones by evaluating risks for patients of all ages and by recommending bone density tests for women over the age of 65 and for any man or woman who suffers even a minor fracture after the age of 50. The report encourages health care professionals to look for “red flags” that may indicate that someone is at risk, such as people who have had multiple fractures, or patients who take medications or have a disease that can lead to bone loss.

“All health care professionals need to be aware of the early indicators of bone disease,” said Lawrence Raisz, MD, of the University of Connecticut Health Center, one of the scientific editors of the report. “Many patients have no idea that their minor fracture could indicate a larger problem. The health care system can do a better job of helping patients protect themselves from bone disease.”

A companion People’s Piece, specifically written for consumers, is also available. The magazine-style, full-color booklet offers ready-to-use information on how people can improve their bone health. The free People’s Piece is available by calling toll free (866)718-BONE or visiting

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