Data from 2017–2018 shows that osteoporosis is common. In adults aged 50 years and over, 12.6% had osteoporosis of the hip, spine, or both. Among females, the prevalence was 19.6%, compared with 4.4% of males.

These figures come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Osteoporosis is a common condition that affects millions of people around the world. It causes reduced bone mass, leading to an increased risk of fractures.

Doctors classify osteoporosis as primary or secondary. Primary osteoporosis is common in postmenopausal people and those over 70. Secondary osteoporosis occurs as a result of another condition or medication.

This article discusses how common osteoporosis is in older adults, males and females, and in different countries. It also explains how people can reduce their risk of getting it.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Osteoporosis is a common condition among older adults and is the most common form of bone disease.

From 2017 to 2018, 12.6% of people aged 50 years and over in the United States had osteoporosis of the hip, lower spine, or both. The figure increased to 17.7% in those aged 65 years and over.

This equates to approximately 10 million individuals over 50 years in the U.S. having osteoporosis, with a further 34 million at risk of the condition.

Across all age groups, the prevalence of osteoporosis is higher among females than males.

According to the CDC data, 13.1% of females aged 50–64 years had osteoporosis in 2017–2018. This figure increased to 27.1% for females aged 65 and above. Osteoporosis affects around 200 million females globally.

In males aged 50–64 years, 3.3% had osteoporosis. This figure increases slightly to 5.7% at age 65 and above.

Although osteoporosis is generally very common, the rates differ considerably according to location. It affects:

Primary osteoporosis typically develops in older adults over 50 years old. It becomes more prevalent with age, with rates rising in people aged 60 or 70 years and above.

However, individuals of all ages and sexes can develop secondary osteoporosis. For example, secondary osteoporosis can occur due to the long-term use of certain medications, such as:

Some diseases can also lead to osteoporosis, including:

There are several reasons why primary osteoporosis is common. They include:

  • Aging: The risk of osteoporosis gets higher with age. In older adults, bone loss increases, and new bone growth decreases.
  • Sex differences: A person’s bone mass peaks during adulthood before it slowly starts to decline. However, females have a lower peak bone mass and smaller bones than males. This puts them at greater risk.
  • Estrogen: Low estrogen levels increase bone resorption. Therefore, people with conditions that disrupt estrogen levels or who are in menopause have a higher risk of osteoporosis.
  • Physical inactivity: Weight bearing exercise, such as walking and lifting heavy objects, helps bones grow stronger. People who get less of this type of exercise may have lower bone density.
  • Vitamin D deficiency: The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, which helps form bone tissue. Vitamin D comes from sunlight, and to a lesser extent, from food. People who do not get outside often, live in colder climates, or have darker skin tones are especially prone to vitamin D deficiency.
  • Other deficiencies: People who do not eat enough protein in their diet or avoid sources of calcium, such as dairy products, may be more likely to get osteoporosis.
  • Smoking: Smoking tobacco has links to an elevated risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

Although the likelihood of osteoporosis increases with age, people of any age can take steps to reduce their risk. Individuals can try the following measures:

  • Taking regular exercise: Weight bearing activities, such as walking, running, and strength training, help stimulate new bone growth and increase bone density.
  • Eating a balanced diet: A person can include enough protein, calcium, and vitamin D in their diet, as these are essential for healthy bones. They need to choose foods naturally high in these nutrients, such as dairy products.
  • Getting sunlight exposure: Exposing the skin to sunlight for a short amount of time each day can help a person get enough vitamin D. If this is not possible, they can speak with a doctor about vitamin D supplementation.
  • Quitting smoking: Smoking can reduce bone density, so people should aim to stop or avoid starting. Many resources are available to help smokers quit, including medications, counseling, and support groups.
  • Limiting alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with calcium absorption, so people should limit their intake to no more than one drink per day for females or two drinks per day for males.
  • Talking with a doctor: People at risk of osteoporosis can speak with their doctor about medications or supplements that may help and whether regular screening is appropriate. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent fractures in the future.

Osteoporosis affects millions of people worldwide. It is more common in postmenopausal females and older adults. However, anyone can develop secondary osteoporosis due to taking medications or having certain health conditions.

Many risk factors, such as age and sex, can increase the chances of developing this condition, but there are things people can do to lower the risk. Taking regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption can all help prevent osteoporosis.