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Thursday, June 25, 1998 Published at 20:40 GMT 21:40 UK


Government acts on brittle bone disease

Campaigners say reintroducing school milk would have a big impact

A new strategy to reduce the crippling toll of the brittle bone disease osteoporosis has been announced by the Government.

The aim is to cut the huge number of bone fractures suffered by tens of thousands of people each year because of osteoporosis.

Ministers' action follows a report by medical experts for the European Commission that warned health services could be financially crippled by the cost of treating osteoporosis.

The report predicted one in eight Europeans over 50 will suffer a spine fracture, and one in three women, and one in nine men over 80 will experience a hip fracture because of osteoporosis.

Public health minister Tessa Jowell said new measures were being introduced to gather evidence about ways to treat and prevent the disease, set achievable targets, and provide better information for sufferers.

She said new clinical guidelines on osteoporosis would be published shortly.

Key messages would be passed onto GPs and community nurses through pamphlets and cards, and a website guide was being set up.

And the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA) is due to publish a report on nutrition and bone health next month, said Ms Jowell. It was expected to highlight the importance of ensuring people have enough calcium and vitamin D in the diet to prevent osteoporosis.

Terrible toll

Speaking at a conference on osteoporosis in Bath, Ms Jowell said: "This year alone there will be about 60,000 hip, 50,000 wrist and 40,000 vertebral fractures due to osteoporosis.

"Almost half of all women will suffer a fracture due to osteoporosis before they are 70 and around one in five hip fractures will be suffered by men. Yet osteoporosis is both preventable and treatable."

A spokeswoman for the National Osteoporosis Society said: "We are very pleased that the Government has taken the opportunity to target osteoporosis as a serious health issue."

School milk push

Campaigners for the re-introduction of free school milk believe this could have a big impact on osteoporosis by helping to ensure pre-teenage children get the calcium they need.

But while the Osteoporosis Society was in favour of school milk the spokeswoman said it was "not the only answer". It was important older children also had enough calcium.

One particular problem was teenagers cutting out dairy products altogether in an effort to stay slim.

Eat a balanced diet

The Health Education Authority welcomed the measures and offered advice on how people can avoid osteoporosis.

Lynn Stockley, head of food and nutrition at the HEA, said: "Eating a varied and balanced diet and taking 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day can help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and will help prevent heart disease and stroke."

Calcium, vitamin D and weight-bearing physical activity were particularly important for building and maintaining strong bones. Milk and dairy products were good sources of calcium.

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