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Osteoporosis is a Pediatric Disease

Deb Gulbrandson, PT, DPT, along with Frank J Ciuba DPT, MS, is the author and instructor for a new course on osteoporisis that is launching remotely this month. Join Deb in Osteoporosis Management: A Comprehensive Approach for Healthcare Professionals!

Osteoporosis is a disease of increasingly porous bones that are at greater risk for fracture. The normal “bone remodeling” of breaking down and building up bone as we age is out of balance. Similar to a bank account with withdrawals outpacing deposits, as time goes on there is more breaking down than building back up. This leaves the bone more vulnerable for fracture.

We tend to think of Osteoporosis as an old person’s disease and in fact age is certainly a risk factor. We see a sharp decline in bone density the first few years following menopause; a withdrawal from the “bone bank account.” But let me share a startling statistic. At the age of 20 we have 98% of the bone density we will ever achieve. We achieve Peak Bone Mass by age thirty when our bones have reached their maximum strength and density.

Factors affecting Peak Bone Mass include both Non-modifiable and Modifiable. Among the non-modifiable factors are gender (peak bone mass is higher in men), race (peak bone mass is higher in African Americans), and hormonal factors (early onset of menstruation and use of oral contraceptives tend to have higher peak bone mass). A family history of osteoporosis is another important factor.

Modifiable factors include nutrition (adequate calcium in the diets of young people), physical activity during the early years (specifically weight bearing and resistance exercises). Poor lifestyle behaviors (smoking, high alcohol intake, and sedentary lifestyle) have all been linked to low bone density in adolescents.

The American Physical Therapy Association website includes a section on “Container Baby Syndrome” (CBS). CBS is the name used to describe a range of physical, cognitive, and developmental conditions caused by a baby or infant spending too much time in containers such as baby carriers, strollers, and Bumpo seats. Bone mass can certainly be affected by reduced movement and weight bearing activities. Due to the SIDS scare, many young parents are fearful of allowing their children to spend time on their abdomens. Educate and share the “Supine to Sleep, Prone to Play” mantra.

The graph below shows a comparison of the Peak Bone Mass of males to females and to individuals with suboptimal lifestyle factors. You can see that the suboptimal group never catches up and enters the osteoporosis stage at around age 40.

Bone Mass Age

According to the Department of Human Services “Osteoporosis is a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences. Peak bone mass is built during our first three decades. Failure to build strong bones during childhood and adolescent years manifests in fractures later in life.”

What can we do?
• Start early: Encourage young children (and their parents) to move more and sit less.
• Spread the word: Speak to Young Mothers’ Clubs, Girl Scout Troops; anywhere to influence adolescent and teens about the importance of proper exercise and good nutrition.
• Write a blog: Share this information in newspapers, social media, and on your website. Get the word out! Because the bones of our future generation depend on it.

NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center
Department of Human Services
American Physical Therapy Association

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