Standing up for Canberra

World Osteoporosis Day 2011

I am delighted to be able to rise tonight in support of this motion on osteoporosis, and I commend the member for Hindmarsh for moving the motion. Like the speakers before me—and I imagine much of the House—I agree that osteoporosis is a significant health problem for Australians, particularly women. It is a pleasure for me, as someone who has a longstanding interest in women's health issues, to speak about it tonight.

As the motion notes, millions of Australians have osteoporosis, including many in Canberra. It is believed that half of all women and one in every three men over 60 will have a fracture as a result of osteoporosis, with a fracture occurring every six minutes or so. Further, 50 per cent of those who do suffer a fracture will suffer further fractures, with the risk growing for each subsequent fracture. This is known as the cascade effect. As an example, a woman who suffers a spinal fracture as a result of this condition is four times more likely to suffer another fracture in 12 months than the normal population. This incident rate increases to 11 times higher for people who have had three or more breaks, compared to someone who has had none.

Many people who have osteoporosis remain undiagnosed and, more alarmingly, those who suffer a fracture attribute the pain and other symptoms to simply growing old, never realising the problem. Indeed, I understand almost two-thirds of fractures go unreported, irrespective of the pain they undoubtedly cause. Our population will age. Increasingly, it is ageing and everyone is aware of that. The fact that our population is ageing and ageing well is a success story. But there are also a range of challenges. These challenges will only continue to grow should this issue remain unchallenged and untreated.

In researching my speech tonight I came across a report by Access Economics, in 2001, that outlined the significance of the problem. This report estimated that, unless more is done to challenge the growth of this disease, almost three million Australians will have osteoporosis by 2021. Further, the rate of fracture would go from every five to six minutes, as it is now, to about every 3½ minutes. As a member for Canberra this is a real concern for me because, like the rest of Australia, we have an ageing population. I recently went to a Property Council seminar on demographic issues around Canberra and it was noted that we have an above-average ageing population. So this is a real challenge for Canberra in the future.

This report also estimated that, in 2001, the cost to the Australian economy was almost $2 billion in direct costs, with a loss of over $5½ billion in indirect costs through loss of income, costs of carers, modifications and equipment. I understand that these figures are somewhat dated but they serve as a good snapshot of the scope of the problem before us. It is obviously an immense problem, which may seem insurmountable. However, this simply is not true and we can lower our risk of osteoporosis. A number of risk factors lead to the development of this disease. Some of these are predetermined and are not able to be prevented, such as family history, genetics and gender. As I and other speakers have mentioned before, women are more susceptible than men to the condition.

However, there are many other factors that we can control. A lack of physical exercise in our younger years has been shown to be a significant risk factor for the development of osteoporosis. Ensuring that we have an active lifestyle that includes exercise is a great way of reducing the risk. Added to this is ensuring that we all eat a balanced and healthy diet, with the appropriate intake of calcium and other vitamins that will ensure good bone development.

As has been mentioned by the member for Shortland and the member for Cowan, it has also been shown that a lack of vitamin D is associated with a reduction in bone mass density, so ensuring appropriate and adequate exposure to sunlight will help. Like the member for Cowan, I am concerned about the number of people who are actually taking vitamin D pills these days, particularly in a country such as Australia. I do understand the challenges of skin cancer, but it concerns me. It is important that we get out in the sun at the right time of the day.

Finally, avoiding smoking and excessive drinking also reduces the risk. These are simple, yet very effective ways of reducing the risk of contracting osteoporosis. They are not daunting. They do not require a huge lifestyle change but they can prevent osteoporosis. It is a simple message and one that all Australians should hear.

Download a copy of this speech.