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te Heuheu Speech - Launch Osteoporosis New Zealand

New National Voice for Osteoporosis

Associate Minister of Health Georgina te Heuheu highlighted the need for a diet high in calcium and regular exercise as strategies to prevent osteoporosis.

The minister was speaking at the launch of Osteoporosis New Zealand. She especially called on parents to ensure their children regularly drank lots of milk and ate yoghurt, cheese and icecream.


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Speech Notes by Georgina te Heuheu at the Launch of Osteoporosis New Zealand

The launch of Osteoporosis New Zealand today will be a positive step towards greater awareness of this important issue. Osteoporosis is a significant issue because it leads to a reduced ability of people to lead healthy and full lives. It is also an increasing health problem as our population ages.

Osteoporosis is a progressive loss of bone density. People with it have fragile and brittle bones that break easily – fractures can occur with only a slight knock or fall. Fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist are particularly common.

One in three women and one in seven men over 60 years of age have low bone density and the prevalence increases with age especially in post-menopausal women. Women have a smaller skeletal frame, smaller bones – they have less bone to lose and they are so busy caring for their families, they may not be taking care of themselves.

For those under the age of 50 years, smoking and excessive alcohol intake may also increase the risk of Osteoporosis and therefore fractures.

We expect costs associated with osteoporosis to increase as the older population continues to grow. Costs are currently estimated at $200 million annually for treatment, rehabilitation and long term care.

The increase in costs will then put pressure on the health budget – the more reason to look at prevention because prevention is the key to this problem. It is clear that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise are very important in preventing osteoporosis.

A diet high in calcium throughout life helps to maximise bone strength. Insufficient calcium intake as children reduces peak bone mass in teenage and early adulthood years, and can increase the risks later in life.

So we need to encourage our children to drink lots of milkshakes and eat yoghurt, cheese and icecream.

Calcium intake is particularly important for women after menopause. They should be getting at least 1500 mg or the equivalent of six helpings of dairy products daily.

Adequate amounts of vitamin D are also necessary for optimal calcium absorption and bone health. A daily walk in the sunshine can assist with the formation of vitamin D in the skin.

Diet alone will not assist with prevention. Moderate physical activity, particularly weight-bearing exercise is also highly beneficial to maintaining bone density. Moderation being the optimum word. Excessive exercise reduces bone mass, but so too does lack of physical activity.

For those with osteoporosis the health professionals they are working with recommend exercise programs that increase strength, co-ordination, balance, flexibility, and improve posture. You all know about these things but it’s always worth reminding ourselves of them.

So what other things are happening about this health problem? Targeted services such as Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and bone density screening are available. HRT in women prevents bone loss post-menopause and reduces the risk of fractures in women with established osteoporosis. The use of HRT has to be an individual decision taking account of possible side-effects.

There is little evidence to recommend bone density screening for everyone. However it’s certainly useful for at risk individuals, as it can assist them in their future decision-making, for example on the use of medications.

As well as treatment and screening services we have in place a number of preventive strategies. They include:
 raising awareness of the risks
 promoting calcium in the diet
 encouraging moderate exercise, and
 ensuring access to appropriate information.

Osteoporosis is a condition, which can have a substantial impact on people’s lives – and we can do something about it.

I congratulate you on the launch of Osteoporosis New Zealand, your work will be valuable in ensuring greater knowledge of this silent but debilitating disease. The society will also provide a national voice for sufferers and those at risk.

Your work will add to the health promotion programs that the Arthritis Foundation, National Heart Foundation, Age Concern and Grey Power are also doing in this area to promote the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise.

As the Arthritis Foundation’s recent Move it or Lose it campaign demonstrated, the messages are simple! Maintain a high calcium diet and regularly exercise.

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