Osteoporosis is usually thought of as a disease of the elderly with strong genetic factors, but this is not entirely inaccurate.
But a new study that has just appeared in the journal PLOS ONE has now rung an alarm bell over the role that social status plays in this disease.
It is uncontroversial that poor and low-income groups struggle with food insecurities, and that this may make them vulnerable to certain diseases.
We unfortunately live in a world where the most affordable foods contain very few nutrients, while some of the most healthy and nutrient-dense foods happen to be the most expensive. Go to your local supermarket and compare the prices of white bread and fruit, and you will understand the point immediately.
A team of researchers wondered whether osteoporosis was a condition that was more common among food-insecure people than in their wealthier counterparts and whether it can be prevented by promoting food security or at least supplements.
The two most important nutrients to prevent osteoporosis are calcium and vitamin D.
The researchers consulted data from the American National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2007–2010 and 2013–2014. Their eventual sample of 3,901 people were all aged 50 and up.
They examined these people’s food consumption and compared that with their household income, the Family Monthly Poverty Level Index, their level of food security, and participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or what some non-Americans may still think of as the food stamps program.
In general, all women above age 50 struggled with some level of calcium deficiency and their consumption of calcium could be improved, regardless of their level of income or food security.
But the effect of poverty could be seen clearly in men and in African Americans.
Low income levels increased the risk for osteoporosis in all men above age 50, because their calcium and vitamin D intake was too low.
Low-income non-Hispanic African American men had twice as high a risk of developing osteoporosis as their wealthier peers—58.9 percent of them had inadequate intake of calcium and 46.7 percent consumed too little vitamin D.
There was one exception, however. Male participants in the SNAP program had a sufficient intake of calcium and vitamin D to avoid osteoporosis.
The researchers accordingly recommended either that the SNAP program be expanded to provide more Americans with that level of food security, or that more elderly Americans be given access to calcium and vitamin D supplements.