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Tuesday, 24 November, 1998, 16:25 GMT
Teenagers suffering from brittle bone disease
Milk is one of the best sources of calcium
Teenage girls with a history of eating disorders have developed the bone-wasting disease osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Society.

The society says it has heard of a number of cases of girls in their teens who have got over anorexia only to find the illness has taken its toll on their bones.

Osteoporosis, which leads to bone fractures, is caused by lack of calcium, regular exercise and vitamin D.

Experts predict the number of hip fractures in Europe will more than double in the next 50 years as people live longer.

One in eight Europeans over 50 is expected to suffer from osteoporosis.

A government-commissioned report on nutrition and bone health, published on Tuesday, recommends several ways for the public, health workers and the government to improve bone health.

Recommendations

The main recommendations of the report of the Committee on Medical Aspects (COMA) of Food and Nutrition are:

  • People should adopt a healthy lifestyle to maintain bone health;
  • People get an adequate calcium intake;
  • All ages be encouraged to exercise regularly;
  • All ages be encouraged to maintain a healthy body weight;
  • Flour continue to be fortified with calcium and that margarine be fortified with vitamin D;
  • Public and health workers are better informed about the importance of avoiding vitamin D deficiency, including by the use of vitamin supplements for those most at risk.

Elderly focus

Public health minister Tessa Jowell said: "One of the groups at risk of vitamin D deficiency is older people, particularly those in residential homes.

"Improving the health of older people is a priority for the government."


Elderly people need nutritious food for healthy bones
She said the Health Education Authority would be particularly targeting the elderly and baseline standards being developed for care in residential homes would include nutrition.

The government is also working on guidelines for "appropriate nutrition" for older people.

Age Concern said it welcomed the focus on nutrition and residential care.

"All too often this group is omitted from government health targets," said a spokeswoman.

"Older people's health and wellbeing can be improved not only by offering them nutritious meals, but by making sure meals are appetising, enjoyable and meet their cultural and social needs."

Disappointed

The National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) also welcomed the targeting of older people, but said it was disappointed that the government had not advocated higher levels of calcium and vitamin D.

It wants a national recommended daily level of 1,000 milligrams and higher levels for pregnant women and women who have gone through the menopause.

The current recommended level is 800 mgs.

Caroline Chisholm of the society said studies had shown that supplements could reduce hip fractures by a third.

Every year there are around 70,000 hip fractures in the UK.

"It is never too late to take more calcium and vitamin D," said Ms Chisholm.

The NOS said it was generally pleased with the COMA report, but added that increased daily recommended levels would show the government was really committed to improving bone health.

Dieting

Ms Chisholm said young girls and teenagers were the most deficient in calcium and vitamin D.

This was because they were so worried about their weight. They tended, for example, to cut out dairy products because they considered them fatty, she said.

However, low fat products had the same calcium content and sometimes higher levels.

"Milk is a high source of calcium and girls often find it difficult to make up the amount through other food," said Ms Chisholm.

The most important time to ensure calcium and vitamin D levels are adequate is while the bones are being formed.

The NOS has heard of several teenage girls who already have osteoporosis because they had eating disorders.

But it said diet and exercise could protect people from osteoporosis throughout their life.

"It's the kind of news people don't want to hear about having a sensible diet and taking regular exercise," said Caroline Chisholm. "It's a commitment for life."

See also:

21 Sep 98 | Health
A baffling bone problem
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