More than 500,000 Arizonans over age 50 have osteoporosis or are at risk of getting the disease that weakens bones and increases the risk of fractures.
But Mary Jane Marsh, instructional specialist at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension office in Kingman, wants to let people know that the disease is preventable and can be treated.
Marsh, a registered nurse, is coordinating educational presentations throughout the county on behalf of the "Bone Builders" program.
The program started in Maricopa County, and has expanded into Mohave County and seven other counties statewide.
"People are surprised to know the simple things they can do to prevent this disease.
But they have to make some decision about diet and exercise and stick to them," Marsh said.
She said that those who don't exercise and stay on a high-calcium diet are candidates for osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease caused by lack of calcium, inactivity and certain medications.
Family history and lifestyle also play a role in getting the disease, Marsh said.
Aimed at promoting awareness, screening and prevention through community adult education, the program provides presentations and displays on osteoporosis, trains volunteers to raise awareness, promotes healthy behaviors, works with fitness centers and offers exercise tips and bone-healthy recipes.
While specifically targeting women age 25 and older, and men over 65, the program hopes to reach people of all ages, Marsh said.
"Osteoporosis is a terribly common disease, but one that can be prevented," said Karin Park, coordinator for the statewide project.
"Many people know it is in their family but don't know they can prevent or delay getting it."
Marsh said the program is based on a six-year University of Arizona study.
The program is a joint effort of the Arizona Department of Health Services, Arizona Osteoporosis Coalition and other partners, including the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, county health departments, health care providers and interested citizens.
Prevention of the disease is simple: eat high-calcium foods, do weight-bearing exercises and lead a generally healthy lifestyle, Marsh said.
A bone-density test, performed at hospitals and some health care facilities, can be used as a tool to gauge the risk of contracting the disease, she added.
To schedule a Bone Builders presentation or to become involved in a local advisory committee, contact Marsh at the University of Arizona Mohave County Cooperative Extension at 753-3788.