Every year, more than one and a half million people worldwide fall and fracture a hip. Of that number, about 80 percent are women. These fractures are painful and associated with a high death rate.  VOA's Carol Pearson reports on a new computer program that predicts a woman's risk of hip fracture over a period of five years.

"How do you consider your health?  Fair, good or very good?" asks the doctor of his patient. The answers to the questions Dr. John Robbins asks could tell women about the risk of fracturing a hip in the next five years. 

Dr. Robbins works at the University of California.  He and researchers from other institutions studied more than 100,000 postmenopausal women to see what factors increased their chances of fracturing a hip.

"Clearly, the major factor is age, and that the older you get, the more likely you are to have a fracture," says Dr. Robbins.

The World Health Organization reports greater incidents of hip fractures in rich countries than in poor ones.  But the World Health Organization projects the number of hip fractures to quadruple in the next 40 years because of the increasing numbers of older people.  Hip fractures can lead to disability and place a major economic burden on health care systems worldwide.

Medications are available to prevent them, but the medications are expensive and they have side effects.  That is why Dr. Robbins wanted to develop a computer program to help predict who is likely to suffer a fracture.

"We took all the information from the approximately 100,000 women in the observational trial,? he says, ?and then looked at whether they went on the have hip fractures and were able to come up with a list of risk factors that predisposed them to hip fracture.  They may not be the causes, but they were associated with the hip fractures. And then we went on to test this in the women in the intervention trials."

The researchers found many factors beyond age to consider.  Among them: race. White women were found to be at greater risk, so were thinner and taller women, smokers, diabetics and sedentary women.  Even a woman's perception of how good her health is plays a role. When all the factors are entered, the program estimates the risk.

Dr. Robbins says more testing is needed to make sure the predictions are accurate.  His hope is the test could help reduce the risk of hip fracture, early death and expense involved in caring for someone with a hip fracture. The Journal of the American Medical Association published the study.

Video courtesy of the Journal of The American Medical Association