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In 2011-12, about 15% of women and 3% of men aged over 50 reported that they had osteoporosis; however the prevalence may actually be much higher, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Estimating the prevalence of osteoporosis in Australia, presents information about the prevalence and impact of osteoporosis in Australians aged 50 and over.

'Osteoporosis prevalence markedly increases with age and is more common in women than in men,' said AIHW spokesperson Louise York.

The report uses self-reported data from the Australian Health Survey for women and men who were living in the community (not in residential aged care) who had a diagnosis of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis causes bones to become thin, weak and fragile, so that even a minor bump or accident can cause a fracture (broken bone).

'As osteoporosis has no obvious symptoms, the condition often goes undiagnosed until a fracture occurs, which means that it is difficult to determine the actual number of people with this condition,' said Ms York.

'A recent study measuring bone density in a population sample, showed the prevalence of osteoporosis among people aged 50 and over was estimated to be 23% for women and 6% for men.

Osteoporosis is a significant health factor affecting the care needs of 12% of people in permanent residential aged care, although this is likely to be an underestimate.

'While osteoporosis can occur at any age, bone loss generally occurs over a long period of time and so older people, particularly post-menopausal women, are at greater risk of having this condition,' Ms York said.

'With an ageing population, an increasing number of Australians, particularly those aged over 50, are at risk of developing osteoporosis and sustaining a fracture.'

Osteoporosis is one of several risk factors for bone fractures that occur following little or no trauma, with minimal trauma fracture of the hip being one of the most serious possible outcomes of osteoporosis.

Although the rate of minimal trauma hip fracture for people aged 50 and over has dropped over the last ten years, the number of hip fractures continues to rise due to the increasing number of older adults in Australia.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 4 September 2014

Further information: Ms Louise York, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1271, mob. 0407 915 851 

Full publication: Estimating the prevalence of osteoporosis in Australia