Initial findings show younger women impacted

An early test of the HMC/Merck osteoporosis program yielded some surprising results: Bone loss may begin occurring in women much earlier than had been thought. If the trend proves out, it’s a sign to wellness professionals that they should target women of all ages with these educational programs.

"We first thought mainly of older women, but the more information I got, the more I came to realize we have to make younger women aware. The adolescent and young adult years are critical, and you can do things then that will have a more lasting affect," notes Diana L. Murray, CEBS, CCP, senior manager of group insurance, at Chicago-based Sara Lee Corporation.

In December 1996, Sara Lee participated in the first phase of the HMC/Merck program, offering it to employees at corporate headquarters and at its Superior Coffee facility, also in Chicago.

In the first educational session, 25 employees attended the physician-led seminar. From there, the word spread. In all, 72 Superior employees participated in the screening — 70 women and two men. At corporate, 78 women and three men participated.

The results of the bone-mass screening were eye-opening. "I was very surprised at the number of women [12] at corporate who had osteopenia [early bone mass loss], and at their ages," says Murray. "We had three women with osteopenia between the ages of 25 and 29, and four between 30 and 34. One woman with osteoporosis was in the 30-34 age range, and another four between 40 and 49 had osteopenia. No women over 49 had either."

At Superior, the numbers were closer to what one would expect. There was one woman in the 20-24 age range who had osteopenia, and none with osteoporosis. There were two women between 40 and 49 with osteopenia, and nine between 50 and 59.

How does Murray explain the results at Superior? "I asked our doctor, and he called it the ‘Pepsi Generation’ syndrome. Poor diet, carpooling; kids don’t go out and play like they used to."

Murray, herself a "boomer," noted: "My score was much better than my 24-year-old secretary’s; I’m from the generation that drank a lot of milk."

Murray, who has plans to expand the program to other Sara Lee facilities, sees tremendous opportunity in these findings.

"More research will give us more direction, but this gives us insight into the need to publish information for our employees about this disease state and steps that can be taken to prevent it," she says. "If the results bear out, down the line there could be preventive measures implemented into our health care pro forma. . . . Just like you have a normal baseline mammogram done when you’re 35, there could also be a basic bone scan."