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For release October 11, 1999


LYON, France

Early detection of low bone density could significantly reduce the impact of osteoporosis, according to a study released today.

The interim report of the WHO Strategy for Osteoporosis, notes that greater awareness of osteoporosis among doctors and patients along with wider diagnosis and management would result in fewer complications of osteoporosis, namely fractures.

The document was launched by IOF, the International Osteoporosis Foundation and WHO-World Health Organization, in a press conference held in Lyon, France, the headquarters of IOF.

The Strategy was compiled by 30 worldwide experts, approximately half of whom are affiliated with IOF member national societies or are on the IOF board of governance.

Dr. Harry K. Genant, University of California San Francisco, chairman of the task force that produced the report, said "Doctors around the world often fail to diagnose osteoporosis correctly. Bone pains and fractures are attributed to normal problems of ageing, rather than to a specific disease. This situation could be changed radically if doctors and patients learned to recognize the risk factors of osteoporosis and if it was easier for patients to have bone mineral density examinations."

The interim report recommends increased education of the public and healthcare providers; improved access to bone densitometry, improved care and education.

Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones, characterized by a decrease in bone mass and density that increases the risk of broken bones, particularly to the spine, wrist, hip, pelvis and upper arm.

Diagnosis often occurs after bones have broken. Early diagnosis is possible using non-invasive bone density scans, which require special equipment but are not frequently used in many countries for a variety of reasons, notably lack of health insurance or government reimbursement. Ordinary x-rays do not accurately measure bone density.

About one in three women and one in eight men over the age of 50 worldwide risk having an osteoporotic fracture during their lifetimes, according to IOF. Worldwide, the increase in the number of osteoporotic hip fractures is estimated to increase from 1.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2050. The greatest increase is likely to come in Asia.

In the Western world, the lifetime risk of a hip fracture in women is greater than the sum of the lifetime risks of having breast, endometrial and ovarian cancer. In Europe and the United States, the lifetime risk of hip fracture in men is greater than the risk of cancer of the prostate. At the same time, bone densitometry can predict the risk of fracture as well as blood pressure measurements can predict the risk of stroke.

The interim report was published in Osteoporosis International, a publication of IOF and NOF, the National Osteoporosis Foundation of the United States, to coincide with World Osteoporosis Day, which will take place on October 20, 1999.

Dr. Pierre D. Delmas, president of IOF and a member of the task force that produced the report, announced that the theme of the 1999 World Osteoporosis Day is early detection.

"IOF's 96 member national societies in 56 countries will spread the message that more needs to be done by national governments and health insurers to promote early detection. Last year we helped to produce the first ever European Union Report on Osteoporosis, and this year we're proud to have participated in the WHO study. The evidence is clear suffering can be substantially reduced and quality of life can be improved if policy makers promoted early detection of people at high risk of getting osteoporosis."

Oliviero Toscani, speaking to the press conference from New York, said "osteoporosis is an incredible problem".

Toscani, who is perhaps best known for his controversial photographs for Benetton, has donated his services and photographed 21 osteoporosis patients from 17 countries. The shoot, initiated and organized by an IOF member society, the Deutsches Grünes Kreuz, was held in Berlin at the end of September. The photographs will form the basis for a major exhibition and related events.

All the patients were photographed nude to "confront the idea that human architecture changes with osteoporosis," according to Toscani. "I want people to be aware of what it can do to people's bodies. I wanted to change the angle and show that osteoporosis patients are beautiful people whose bodies don't conform to our standards of 'normal' beauty." These pictures are about life, creation, excitement, not deformity."

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director general of WHO, said in a recent exclusive interview with IOF that good bone health requires the empowerment of both women and men. "Twenty-five years ago, the world's leading experts in cardiovascular diseases warned of an impending epidemic of heart disease in developing countries," she said. "This warning was largely ignored and we are now seeing a dramatic increase in prevalence of cardiovascular diseases in the developing world. We must not allow the same thing to happen for osteoporosis. We must act now."

Dr Brundtland predicted a significant increase in osteoporosis in the developing world and urged policy makers to collaborate with different sectors of society.

"The fight against osteoporosis has become a global social movement," Mary Fraser, executive director of IOF says. "We want to create noise about the 'silent epidemic' and get people to realize that osteoporosis can be prevented, it can be diagnosed, and it can be treated."

For more information please contact:

About the WHO Strategy for Osteoporosis:
Harry K. Genant MD, University of California San Francisco, chairman of the task force that produced the report:

About osteoporosis in general, activities of IOF member national societies relating to World Osteoporosis Day, and the status of government support for early detection in various countries:
Mary Fraser, Executive Director, IOF,

About WHO and their osteoporosis program:
Dr Nikolai Khaltaev, Department of Noncommunicable Disease Management,

About Osteoporosis International and reproduction of the interim report
Christiane Notarmarco, Journal Manager,

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