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Burden of Osteoporosis Report flawed, alarmist

Media release
28 November 2007

Burden of Osteoporosis Report flawed, alarmist, and misleading

A staggering 84,354 New Zealanders are predicted to break bones this year as a result of osteoporosis. That’s one osteoporosis related fracture every six minutes and a hip fracture every two hours, according to Osteoporosis New Zealand. Their Fonterra-funded Burden of Osteoporosis in New Zealand (BONZ) report warns of the alarming spread and incidence of osteoporosis with an impact greater than colorectal, breast and prostate cancers.

Women’s Health Action investigate the BONZ report in their latest Update bulletin and find it flawed and misleading. “We were very surprised to find that these alarming figures are not based on actual osteoporosis fracture statistics for New Zealand, and that the very high fracture rates in the report were essentially fabricated” says Gill Sanson. “The report is generated from formulae adopted from a six-year-old Swedish study. It takes the known annual 3,500 or so hip fractures occurring in adult New Zealanders, assumes they are all osteoporotic – regardless of how they occurred – and from these calculates the number of osteoporotic fractures of the rib, vertebrae, clavicle, scapula, tibia, fibula, scapula, sternum, forearm, pelvis or proximal humerus.”

It is highly suspect to extrapolate fragility fracture incidence from one type of fracture to another, and some startling rates emerge. Men aged 50 – 59, a known low-risk group, are predicted to suffer an astonishing 9,468 fractures as a result of osteoporosis in 2007. Women in the same age group, also at low risk, are predicted to have 6,298 fractures in the same period. Rates increase in men and women with age. Where are all these people? Why aren’t our hospitals full of people with broken bones?

The BONZ report is accompanied by an advertising campaign. “Shock, horror” say the ladies over lunch in the TV advert, “mother has just been diagnosed with osteoporosis. We should all drink more milk and take calcium supplements”. But there is insufficient evidence to prove dairy consumption is beneficial to bone or that it will prevent fracture. “Even more worrying ”, says Gill Sanson, “the recommended calcium supplements contain 1200mg, despite a five-year Auckland University study recently finding that supplementing with 1000mg of calcium a day increases the incidence of heart attack by 40 percent in women over 70 years.”

Conveniently for Fonterra, the BONZ report advises all New Zealanders to drink more milk, while Osteoporosis New Zealand is calling for government-funded bone density scans for all post-menopausal women who have had a fracture. The report leads healthy adults to believe they are at risk for crumbling bones and debilitating fractures and does little to provide useful advice or help for those at genuine risk for osteoporosis.


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