20 October 2014

South Africans underestimate men's risk of osteoporosis

New survey shows that South Africans vastly underestimate men's risk for osteoporosis, a condition that can lead to painful fractures, disability and early death, but continues to be ignored by the general public and neglected by doctors during routine physical check-ups.

New survey findings released on World Osteoporosis Day by the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) and the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa(NOFSA), showed that 86% of South African adults are unaware of how common osteoporotic fractures are in older men. With one in five men aged 50 years or over affected, the data confirm that although common and debilitating, osteoporosis remains a vastly underestimated and a neglected health issue.

The multi-national survey, carried out in men and women from 12 countries showed that this ignorance was universal and independent of gender or geography.

The survey found that 86% of male and female respondents, and 92% of all male respondents aged 50+, either underestimated a man’s risk of suffering a fracture or said they did not know. This was similar to the international average of 90%. These findings strongly suggest that thousands of men in South Africa, as in other parts of the world, remain unaware of their own personal risk and are therefore leaving themselves vulnerable to fractures and a future of pain, disability and early death.

Professor Stephen Hough, IOF Board member and President of the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa, said “Osteoporosis is a disease which causes bones to become weak and prone to fracture easily. It is often viewed as a woman’s disease, and therefore the general public and even doctors fail to recognize just how common and serious osteoporosis is in older men.”

Currently there are only about 8 million people over the age of 50 – the ageing population will therefore exponentially increase in the next decade or two and so will the occurrence of osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures. Anti-retroviral therapy use has increased dramatically and the negative influence of these medications on bone health is known and being studied, also locally.

Experts are also concerned that factors such as smoking, sedentary lifestyle, alcohol abuse and low levels of calcium and vitamin D intake may be contributing to poor bone health in men. Previous studies have also found an excessive salt and protein intake, coupled with high alcohol use to be some of the main contributing risk factors in South African men.

The survey also revealed how doctors are failing to address the bone health of their male patients during routine check-ups. Seventy-three per cent of South African men aged 50+ said that they had never had any form of bone assessment during a routine visit to the doctor, including: been asked about bone health; had risk factors for osteoporosis discussed; questioned if they had previously broken a bone; or had been referred for a bone mineral density test. This compares to 43% of female respondents aged 50+. Doctors were 30% less likely to discuss risk factors with women as with men in this age group.

In response to the survey findings, IOF President John Kanis stated, “The results of this international survey are worrying as they also reveal that doctors are neglecting the bone health of their older male patients, despite that fact that osteoporotic fractures in men over the age of 50 are more common than prostate cancer. We also know that following a hip fracture men are twice as likely to die compared to women, with mortality rates as high as 37% in the first year following fracture.”

He added, “Ensuring early prevention and treatment of osteoporosis will allow men to retain their quality of life and help them to remain mobile and independent as they age.” 

About World Osteoporosis Day

World Osteoporosis Day is observed annually on 20 October, and marks a year-long campaign dedicated to raising global awareness of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis and related musculoskeletal diseases.

World Osteoporosis Day is supported globally by unrestricted educational grants from Amgen, Fonterra, Lilly, MSD, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare.

About the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa (NOFSA)

The National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa (NOFSA) is the only nonprofit, voluntary health organization in South Africa dedicated to promoting lifelong bone health through prevention, diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis and related musculoskeletal diseases in order to reduce the widespread prevalence of osteoporosis and associated fractures. Also find us on Twitter and FB


About the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF)

The International Osteoporosis Foundation is the world's largest nongovernmental organization dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis and related musculoskeletal diseases. IOF members, including more than 200 patient, medical and research societies, work together to make bone, joint and muscle health a worldwide health-care priority.;; #LoveYour Bones


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Healthy Bones

Tereza is the CEO of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and worked as a Nursing Sister in the field of Osteoporosis for 18 years prior to her appointment with the Foundation. She used to be the Educational Officer for the Foundation and co-wrote the patient brochure on Osteoporosis. Read more

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