Study shows dramatic increase in wrist fractures over 30-year span

September 16, 2003

Wrist fractures, especially those occurring during the adolescent growth spurt, are significantly more common now than 30 years ago, according to a study by scientists at the Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation, Rochester, MN. The researchers theorize that this increased incidence could signal more fractures in later life, especially if it reflects insufficient bone mass built up during adolescence.

The scientists looked at people age 35 and younger living in Rochester and surrounding Olmsted County during four time periods--1969-71, 1979-81, 1989-91, and 1999-2001. During the study period, there was a 32 percent overall increase in wrist fractures among males and a 56 percent rise in females. The highest incidence rates were found in girls ages 8-11 and boys ages 11-14 in 1999-2001.

This study reported by Dr. Sundeep Khosla and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation, Rochester, MN, was supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and several other institutes at the National Institutes of Health. The results are reported in the September 17, 2003, Journal of the American Medical Association.

For all age groups, the researchers noted, greater involvement in physical activities might be increasing the risk of injury. However, this possible increase in injuries should be weighed against the health benefits from increased physical activity.

Of particular interest, the researchers said, was the difference between the rate of fractures among adolescent boys (ages 11-14) and girls (ages 8-11) of today and their rate more than 30 years ago. Beyond the greater exposure to possible injury from an increase in physical activity over that time period, in the paper the investigators speculated that "acquisition of bone mass may be impaired in the later time periods, perhaps related to changing dietary habits. Over the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the consumption of carbonated soft drinks, with a corresponding decline in milk consumption." Since childhood and adolescence is the time when the bone mass that people have as adults is developed, a diet that compromises bone development early in life could increase the risk of fracture later in life, the researchers theorized. They noted, however, that further study would be needed to investigate the causes of the rise in childhood wrist fractures. Also additional follow-up will be necessary to see if the increase in wrist fractures in youth actually predicts bone fractures later in life.
Sherry Sherman, Ph.D, director of Clinical Endocrinology and Osteoporosis Research in the NIA's Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology Program, is available to discuss these findings. To speak with Dr. Sherman or for more information on health and aging, please contact the NIA Office of Communications and Public Liaison, 301-496-1752.

The NIA leads the Federal effort to support and conduct basic, clinical, epidemiological, and social research on aging and the special needs of older people. Readers, viewers, and listeners can visit the NIA website at or call 1-800-222-2225 for a list of publications on aging and health.

NIH/National Institute on Aging

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