Men, Young Adults Tend To Downplay Osteoporosis Risk

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Young adults and men do not see themselves as susceptible to osteoporosis, according to a new study. In their minds, the risk of suffering from what many consider an older woman’s disease seems distant or slim. The problem: They are missing preventive measures that if taken now, could decrease their future danger of developing the disease.

In the study of 300 Canadian men and women, researchers found significant age and gender differences in how people perceived their susceptibility to osteoporosis. Specifically, middle-aged and older women scored significantly higher than younger participants and men, suggesting that older women believe they are at greater risk.

“The low scores among younger people raise concerns for the approaching epidemic,” said Shanthi Johnson, Ph.D., lead study author and a professor at University of Regina. “Given the aging population and the growing percentage of older women within that population, osteoporosis should receive more recognition.”

The study appears in the October issue of the journal Health Education & Behavior.

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According to Osteoporosis Canada, the disease is a debilitating one that weakens bones and increases the risk of fractures. Twenty percent of those who experience osteoporosis-based hip fractures die; another 50 percent suffer permanent disabilities.

While the disease does strike twice as many older women as it does men, men are also susceptible to osteoporosis. Because people can change their habits to lower their risk, researchers are looking at people’s beliefs in order to develop and target prevention programs to the particular needs of each demographic.

The best defense against the disease is building strong bones in childhood and young adulthood. Anybody can reduce their risk, however, by eating a well-balanced diet that is high in calcium and vitamin D and by participating in weight-bearing exercises or sports.

In the study, motivation to take preventive action and the perceived seriousness of the disease were similar across all age and gender groups — low — suggesting that people are not aware of the serious consequences of osteoporosis and that younger men and women are unlikely to change their behavior unless they change their beliefs.

Karen Chapman-Novakofski, Ph.D., at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, is encouraged that the susceptibility scores in Johnson’s study show some progress in awareness. “Years ago,” she said, “we found that younger women thought older women should know more about the condition and that older women thought it was too late for them, and that younger women should know more.”

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