Feature Archive

Powerful Bones, Powerful Girls

Bad to the Bone

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

Chances are, 9-year-old Ali Brown doesn't know the word "osteoporosis." But she eats lots of cheese, munches a Flintstone vitamin every day (the plus-calcium variety), and gets tons of exercise -- inline skating, jumping on a trampoline.

Her mother doesn't like to admit it, but osteoporosis is low on her worry list. "Heart disease and breast cancer run in my family," says Jana Brown. "I tend to focus there."

Even adults have a hard time taking osteoporosis seriously.

There's no pain, no obvious sign that your bones are getting brittle. The first sign is often a fracture -- your wrist, spine, or hip breaks. Many of our grandmothers spent long years lying in bed with hip fractures.

Today: "A hip fracture is the No. 1 reason elderly people end up in nursing homes. Within the first year, 20% die," says Saralyn Mark, MD, endocrinologist and geriatrician, and medical advisor to the Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health.

Mark is a spokeswoman for the nationwide "Powerful Bones, Powerful Girls" campaign.

Her own mother has been battling osteoporosis for decades, Mark says.

"It's hard for her to walk ... she's fallen several times," she tells WebMD. Her mother's bones are so weak, she can't even carry her own purse. "She needs my dad to carry her purse at the mall. It's hard for her to sleep in bed because she's had a back fracture."

It all could have been prevented: "She was a smoker, didn't get much calcium, wasn't terribly physically active."

That's the grim reality of osteoporosis. "Quality of life can be severely affected," says Mark.

Here's another issue: What kids do now affects their risks later on. "I've said it before, it's a disease with pediatric origins and geriatric consequences," she tells WebMD.