Bone Builders Program Fights Osteoporosis

Improve the Nation's Nutrition and Health
Research Year: 

It is estimated that one out of every two women over 50 will develop osteoporosis. Older men have also been identified as possibly at risk. This silent disease weakens bones, eventually causing fractures, disability and loss of quality of life for millions of people, especially the elderly. It is the number two reason for women's admissions into nursing homes. More than 28 million Americans who have osteoporosis or at high risk because of low bone mass; 80 percent of those affected are women. Although osteoporosis is both treatable and preventable, studies show that awareness is quite low among the U.S. population. Simple changes in diet and exercise can improve calcium levels in the body and strengthen bones before osteoporosis occurs. With the large baby boom generation now moving into the beginning life stage susceptible to osteoporosis, education and prevention is more important than ever.

Description of Action: 

A collaborative program called “Bone Builders” was developed as part of the University of Arizona partnership between Cooperative Extension in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the UA College of Public Health. The program brings together several public and private partners to reduce risk for osteoporosis statewide among women over 25 and men over 65 by increasing their awareness of the risks of osteoporosis and ways to prevent it from developing. The program recruits and retains community peer educators who teach local, community classes, and seeks to identify high risk women in each community and encourage them to get basic x-ray or ultrasound screening for bone density. In fall 2001, new funding allowed Bone Builders to concentrate more time teaching food stamp-eligible women.

Since 1998, more than 320 volunteers and staff have been trained. Bone Builders displays were featured at health fairs, community fairs, health spas, statewide conferences and community libraries. The Web site,, was developed. Bone Builders displays were featured at health fairs, community fairs, health spas, statewide conferences and community libraries. The Bone Builders program received the Preister Extension Health Award in April 2003 from USDA-CSREES. A Bone Builders senior physical activity program was begun for inactive seniors in Tucson and Phoenix and at 10 senior centers in 2003, and received a special award from the City of Phoenix that year. This nine-week program continues with grant funding at more than 15 centers in Buckeye, Tempe, Springerville, Phoenix and Tucson senior centers with more than 250 participants in 2005.


In 2005 Bone Builders programs taught 4335 people at 305 classes; another 220 were taught one-on-one, and 16,445 were instructed at 66 health fairs. One million total were reached with education, materials, displays and media. Bone Builders partners screened 98 women. A sample of 1513 class participants rated their classes as 4.5 out of a 5-point schedule with 5 as excellent. had 12,801 visitors in 2005 with 432,623 hits or 35 visitors per day with an average of 30 hits per visit.

Participants report major improvements in daily functioning, energy levels, strength and endurance: A sample of 481 participants sampled statewide in 2004 rated their knowledge before a Bone Builders class as 1.88 and 4.65 out of 5 after the class—a 140 percent increase in knowledge. From a statewide sample of 211 community class participants, 79 percent reported they intended to make changes as a result of the class. When called 4-6 months later, 39 percent said they actually increased their calcium consumption as a result of the classes; 36 percent had increased their weight-bearing exercise, and 22 percent went on to get a bone density scan because of attending the class. All seniors completing the BBPAP class improved in at least 1 out of 6 fitness assessments. Two volunteers (married 50 years) reported major improvements in overall health, morale and involvement in their center due to the series.

Funding Agencies: 

UA Cooperative Extension; UA College of Public Health; County Department of Public Health Services; Dairy Council of Arizona; Arizona Department of Agriculture; Arizona Osteoporosis Coalition; Scottsdale Health Care; Phoenix Center for Clinical Research; Arizona Department of Health Services; Arizona Nutrition Network

Conact Name: 
Sharon Hoelscher-Day
Contact E-mail: 
Contact Address: 

Maricopa County Cooperative Extension

4341 E. Broadway

Phoenix, AZ 85040-8807

Telephone: (602) 470-8086, ext. 332 FAX: (602) 470-8092