Osteoporosis affects more people than breast, uterine and prostate cancer combined—that is one in two women and one in four men. Latinos are not excluded from those statistics.
In a large screening program conducted by our research foundation, American Bone Health (ABH) in Contra Costa County in Northern California from 2002-2006, 715 older Latinas where screened and 33% were found to have osteoporosis and another 24% had low bone mass, putting them at increased risk for fracture. Similarly, in Southern California, Barrett-Connor et al. (2005) found that the prevalence of low bone density and the absolute risk of fracture is similar for non-Hispanic white women and Latinas, who had the highest risk for fracture compared with Native Americans, African-Americans and Asian Americans
The bone health crisis is particularly critical among Latinos because in California, hip fractures have doubled in this group since 1983, while remaining unchanged or declining in other ethnic groups (Zigmond, 2004). Creating effective osteoporosis disease management in the Latino population requires a coordinated health system change.
Evidence from ABH indicates that Latinos are not as likely as other as other ethnic groups to take recommended prevention steps to protect themselves from bone loss, osteoporosis, and fractures. A great need exists for future studies that focus on understanding the perceptions of Latinos and their physicians’ attitudes and behaviors related to osteoporosis and bone health.
A study in Ventura County (Focil 2009) of 318 postmenopausal Latinas was conducted to determine whether providing osteoporosis education along with bone density screening would motivate Latinas to seek medical help. This study showed similar prevalence as ABH, that 41% of participants had low bone mass and 33% had osteoporosis. This study followed patients and found that Less than half (41%) of the Latinas with osteoporosis sought medical help and among those who did seek help, only 30% of the physicians prescribed needed osteoporosis treatment.
ABH began to research the barriers preventing Latinos from taking the steps necessary to improve bone health. Many older Latinos were either unaware of the importance of bone density testing or were afraid of the test itself. One Latino participant, Juan, shared his perception:
“I was thinking that…(the bone density test) will be painful and traumatic, but it was very simple, not painful, so I know that I need to take care of myself, pay attention to my daily diet and tell my daughters and granddaughters that they need to have bone density screenings.
We must continue to raise awareness about bone health and fracture prevention among Latinos.