Published: July 28, 2013

There is no doubt osteoporosis is a serious health condition affecting many Australians young and old. However, the disease is easily preventable with a healthy diet and exercise which helps to build healthy bones. For those who suffer injury or illness income protection insurance and trauma, insurance provides financial assistance in times of need.

Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones become fragile and brittle due to decreased bone density and mass. Such bones will fracture more easily than normal bone. Even a minor bump or fall can cause a serious fracture.

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Osteoporosis in Australia is often called a silent disease, as there are usually no signs or symptoms until someone has a fracture. Any bone can be affected but the most common are bones of the hip, spine, wrist, ribs, pelvis and upper arm.

Fast facts of osteoporosis

  • In 2004-05, direct health expenditure on osteoporosis was more than $304 million.
  • More than 581,000 Australians have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, with 17% under the age of 55 years and 85% being female (2).
  • Every 5-6 minutes, someone is admitted to an Australian hospital with an osteoporotic fracture. This is expected to rise to every 3 – 4 minutes by the year 2021, as the population ages and the number of osteoporotic fractures increase.
  • 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men over 60 years will have an osteoporotic fracture in Australia (3).

What causes osteoporosis?

The health of your bones depends on a number of factors:

  • Your genes (60-80%),
  • The level of hormones in your body,
  • How physically active you are, and what you eat
  • Your medical history
  • Family history of osteoporosis, and fractures

Also, certain conditions and medications can increase your risk of osteoporosis: corticosteroids (commonly used for asthma), rheumatoid arthritis, overactive thyroid or parathyroid glands, coeliac disease and other chronic gut conditions, and chronic liver or kidney disease.

The good news is, osteoporosis is largely preventable. Key preventative actions include regular weight-bearing exercise, a balanced diet including calcium risk foods, adequate vitamin D levels and maintaining a healthy weight.

Cessation of smoking if you are a smoker and moderation of alcohol consumption is also important. Lifestyle choices certainly do impact on this condition is a significant way. Childhood and adolescence are a key time for building healthy bones and ensuring high peak bone mass (1).

Trauma insurance may cover osteoporosis

Some insurers also cover severe osteoporosis under their trauma insurance policies, where the life insurance company may pay a partial critical illness cover benefit.

In very severe cases where you are deemed permanently unable to work due to mobility issues, then total and permanent disability cover may also assist if the cover is in place prior to diagnosis.

One life insurance company’s definition of severe osteoporosis

“The life insured suffers at least two vertebral body fractures or a fracture of the neck of femur, due to osteoporosis and has a bone mineral density reading with a T-score of -2.5 or worse (i.e. 2.5 standard deviations below the young adult mean for bone density).

This must be measured in at least two sites by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). The life insured must suffer from this condition before he or she reaches his or her 50th birthday and must at the time covered for the condition (CommInsure).”

1 www.oesteoporosis.org.au
2 Arthritis and osteoporosis in Australia 2008, AIHW December 2008
3 www.osteoporosis.org.au

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