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General News    H4'ed 10/10/17

Do You Have "Osteopenia"? Pharma Hopes So

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How Pharma Has "Grown" the Thinning Bones Market

Treating women for "osteopenia"----weak bones---- or their fear of weak bones has been a gold mine for Pharma. Yet the condition is largely made up by Pharma to sell drugs.

Osteopenia was never meant as "a disease in itself to be treated," according to Dartmouth Medical School professor Anna Tosteson, MD. She attended the 1992 Pharma-sponsored World Health Organization (WHO) meeting in Rome where the term was first coined. The scientists in the room were tired and agreed on the new condition's definition simply because they wanted to adjourn for the night and go to bed she told National Public Radio (NPR).

Lack of exercise, poor diets and some prescription drugs cause weak bones
Lack of exercise, poor diets and some prescription drugs cause weak bones
(Image by Martha Rosenberg)
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To measure the new "disease," bone density units called "T scores" were invented even though they had "boundaries so broad they include more than half of all women over 50," wrote Susan Kelleher in the Seattle Times. Ka-ching.

To grow the "bone market," Merck hired former drug researcher Jeremy Allen to whip up osteopenia fears and demand. Allen's company planted bone density measuring machines in medical offices across the country and created the faux "Bone Measurement Institute" to establish osteopenia as a health epidemic. He helped push through the Bone Mass Measurement Act which transferred the cost of the bone scans, called DXAs, onto taxpayers by making them Medicare reimbursable.

The legislation was written by Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), who appeared with HHS Secretary Donna Shalala at a National Dairy Council rally kicking off free bone density screenings to be offered in 100 cities along with a chance to be chosen for the next Got Milk mustache ad in People magazine in 1998. Yes, both Big Pharma and Big Dairy saw a cash cow in scaring women about their bones--pun intended.

Taxpayer money was such gravy to Pharma, when the spigot became threatened, a Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine article drops all pretense of scientific and academic objectivity and exhorts readers to "Lobby your legislators," to restore bone density "reimbursement to a level that would allow outpatient DXA facilities to avoid financial losses and continue operating."

Patients are "likely to be harmed by limited access to DXA testing because of fewer instruments in operation and greater distances to travel to reach them," says the embarrassingly "bought" article. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine editors did not respond to my requests for a statement about the embedded commercial in a "medical" journal.

TV personality Meredith Vieira also dropped any pretense of professional objectivity in huckstering the DXA scans. "When I became menopausal, my doctor recommended I get a bone mineral density test. I had never even heard of it, to be quite honest. I thought, 'I'm in great health, great shape. I have no symptoms. Why do I need this?' But I went ahead and did the test anyway," she says on the dairy giant Land O Lake's website. "To illustrate how ignorant I was when I had the test done, I asked where I could change and the nurse told me I didn't need to take off my clothes. They did a test on my heel, hip and spine, which only took a matter of five minutes. And it was totally painless. It's so simple to do." Got that, ladies? How "ignorant" are we to not smell Vieira's shameless bought endorsement?

By 1999 there were 10,000 bone density measuring machines in medical offices and clinics, when there had been only 750 before the diagnosis of the "disease" of osteopenia.

Of course weak bones do exist but they are usually not caused by deficiencies of bone drugs or dairy products but lack of weight-bearing exercise and excessive protein diets. "If milk deficiencies caused fracture, why do poorer countries often have lower fracture rates than industrialized countries, points out T. Colin Campbell, PhD, in The China Study. Both GERD drugs and SSRI antidepressants also, significantly cause the very weak bones Pharma says it is trying to fix. Yes, Pharma is creating its own "patients."

This article is adapted from Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health click here

(Article changed on October 11, 2017 at 00:11)

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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