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Health experts and policy makers call to make the prevention of osteoporotic fractures an EU healthcare priority – Toscani photo exhibition launched

European Parliament, Brussels
November 12, 2003

Osteoporosis experts and policy makers today called for the EU and national health ministries to improve policies and support programmes to create a Europe free from needless osteoporotic fractures. Simultaneously, an exhibition by famous Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani opened, exposing the human costs of osteoporosis, the "silent epidemic".

A report, Osteoporosis in the European Community: Action Plan, presented today at the European Parliament in Brussels by the European Union Osteoporosis Consultation Panel1, provides the key steps necessary to prevent fragility fractures that result from osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis, in which the bones become porous and break easily, is one of Europe's most common but least recognized diseases. One in three women over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis, as will one in eight men2, imposing a huge social and financial burden on society. In Europe, the annual first-year direct cost of treating all osteoporotic fractures is estimated at €25 billion. One person in the EU suffers an osteoporotic fracture every 30 seconds3. With an ageing population, the number of fractures and their costs will at least double in the next fifty years4 unless effective preventive strategies are developed.

"If we are to avoid an epidemic of osteoporosis and a miserable future of fragility fractures especially in the elderly of Europe", said Dr Juliet Compston, Chair of the EU Osteoporosis Consultation Panel and International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) board member, " there are three key steps that, with support from the EU, must be implemented in member and accession states:

  • Development of evidence-based prevention guidelines in all member and accession states, with governmental endorsement and financial support.
  • Appropriate access to and reimbursement of diagnosis and therapy.
  • Coordinated collection of fracture data to include in the EU health information system (EUHIS) so that we can evaluate preventive strategies and plan the allocation of future healthcare resources."

The opening of the dramatic photographic exhibition "Osteoporosis: A Photographic Vision", by Oliviero Toscani, draws attention to the issue. It presents a realistic and informative view of how osteoporosis changes people's lives. Toscani explains that he was intrigued by the concept of photographing people with osteoporosis in black and white, without clothes, so that viewers could better understand the nature of the disease. "I believe knowledge is the basis of education", said Toscani. "The people in this exhibition have shown a large amount of generosity by revealing their physical situation in this way. Through the visual effects of the exhibition they will help other people to find out if they are also exposed to the risk."

"Since a first fracture is rapidly followed by more fractures, it is critical that healthcare policies promote the detection of osteoporosis before the first fracture occurs," continued Dr Juliet Compston. "The Action Plan reveals that, unfortunately, early detection is not perceived as a healthcare priority." Noting that individuals have to take responsibility for their bone health, Dr Compston added, "While osteoporosis is one of the worst chronic diseases in Europe, most people have no idea of their personal risk status."

Making prevention of osteoporotic fractures a healthcare priority in all member states was first outlined in a 1998 European Commission report. In 2001, a policy audit report, prepared by IOF, showed that little progress had been made in implementing the eight policy change recommendations detailed in the first report. This third report, the Action Plan, aims to raise the priority of osteoporosis at government level with particular emphasis on the development of effective strategies for the prevention of fragility fractures in high-risk individuals.

"We are at a crossroads and need urgent policy changes if we are to avoid an epidemic of osteoporotic fractures in Europe," said IOF Chief Executive Officer Daniel Navid. "Policy makers must not ignore the plight of millions of people who will have osteoporotic fractures if nothing is done."

"Far too many Europeans at high risk of osteoporosis still suffer needlessly because they did not have timely diagnosis or preventive therapies", said Mel Read, MEP and chair of the European Parliament Osteoporosis Interest Group. Over the past two years the Group has worked with the EU and member and accession states to implement actions. "We are delighted to host the launch of this new and much needed Action Plan", said Mel Read "We look forward to seeing real progress."


To download report and see further information on the European Union Policy Project and Consultation Panel visit


1 Supported financially by the European Commission.

2 Melton LJ, Chrischilles EA, Cooper C et al. How many women have osteoporosis? Journal of Bone Mineral Research, 1992; 7:1005-10

3 Compston J et al. Fast facts – Osteoporosis 2nd edition. Health press Limited, Oxford; 1999

4 Report on Osteoporosis in the European Community – Action for Prevention; European Commission 1998

Osteoporosis: A photographic Vision

– is an international project developed by the International Osteoporosis Foundation and the German Green Cross. The German Green Cross is a member society of IOF and is the oldest non-governmental organization in Germany for health promotion and communications. It cooperates with other national and international organizations, governmental institutions, scientific associations, patient societies and the media.

For further information, please contact Jenny Bonnet, Communications Officer


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