As reported by The Hartford Courant, May 10, 2006.
Sally Field's New Cause: Strong Bones
By Korky Vann
Sally Field has portrayed a surfing teenager, a flying nun and a union activist. Now the Oscar-winning actress has taken on a new role - advocate for women's health. Last month, the 59-year-old Field revealed that she has osteoporosis and is leading an effort to educate other baby boomers about their risk of developing the bone-weakening condition.
"Osteoporosis is a threat to women of my generation," says Field, a
two-time Oscar winner. "We've been activists throughout our lives. Today
the biggest hurdle we face is maintaining our health."
Osteoporosis weakens bones, making them fragile and susceptible to fracture. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one in two women over 50 (and one in four men over 50) will have an osteoporosis-related fracture. That can lead to chronic pain, loss of independence and, in the case of hip fractures, death. One in four hip-fracture patients ages 45 and older die in the year after their fracture.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include age, gender, race, body structure, weight and lifestyle, says Dr. Pamela Taxel, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. The older you are, the greater your risk of osteoporosis. Your bones become weaker and less dense as you age. Your chances of developing osteoporosis are greater if you are a woman, because women have less bone tissue and lose bone more rapidly than men due to a decline in estrogen after menopause. Susceptibility to fracture may be hereditary. Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis. Small-boned and thin women (under 127 pounds) are at greater risk. Certain medications can also increase the risk.
"I was the poster child for some of the risk factors for osteoporosis," says Field. "I'm small-framed, and I have a family history. But I didn't think it was something I had to worry about because I've always tried to eat right, exercise and stay active. If it's true that you are what you eat, I should be a green vegetable. I don't smoke, and I rarely drink. I've taken calcium since I was in my 40s. So I was shocked when a bone density test showed I had experienced bone loss and I had osteoporosis."
Although 44 million Americans are at risk for or suffer from osteoporosis, it often goes undiagnosed until a fracture occurs. The diagnosis depressed Field, who was frustrated by the lack of information for middle-aged women and concerned about how the condition would change her life.
"I was afraid the diagnosis meant I'd no longer be able to be active. I didn't feel young anymore," says Field. "When I discovered there were things I could do to improve my bone health, I was so relieved. For me, treating my osteoporosis means I can strengthen my bones and continue an active lifestyle without being afraid of a fracture."
Field attempted to manage her disease through diet, exercise and supplements, but when her efforts failed to slow the progression, her doctor prescribed a once-a-month medication designed to help build and maintain bone mass and prevent fractures. Roche and GlaxosmithKline, makers of the drug Boniva (ibandronate sodium), are sponsoring Field's outreach and educational campaign.
"Rally With Sally for Bone Health" (www.bonehealth.com) features information on understanding and managing post-menopausal osteoporosis and encourages readers to make a commitment to maintain good bone health, including getting adequate calcium and vitamin D, exercising to build strength, regular doctor visits, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption and taking osteoporosis medication as prescribed. Field will also be posting monthly journal entries.
"Baby boomers have reinvented themselves at every age and this time of our lives is no exception," says Field. "We're a loud generation and we will be heard. We've never been willing to sit back and take anything, and that includes this disease. We're going to do everything we can to take action and protect ourselves."
For more information on osteoporosis and treatments, visit www.nof.org, the website for the National Osteoporosis Foundation.