What Rural Women Need to Know About Bone Health

You have probably heard that women are at high risk of developing osteoporosis, or fragile bones, as they age. But are women living in a rural setting even more at risk than women living in an urban setting? Lori Fitton, Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner at Mayo Clinic, believes they are. 

Lori grew up on a dairy farm in Gifford, MN, and has since dedicated her life to helping others in the form of medicine. However, it wasn’t until later in her career, when she began working in surgery, that she developed an interest in bone health, particularly in post-menopausal women living in rural areas. 

“I began to realize that many [people] see bone as ‘dead tissue.’ But it’s living tissue, and women are losing bone tissue faster after menopause,” she explained.  

Lori’s observations from working in surgery led her to investigate the issue further, and she is currently working towards a PhD in Nursing, with a thesis on “Bone Health in Rural Post-Menopausal Women.” Her goal is to educate rural women about the gravity of depleting bone health, and about the positive effects of calcium intake, vitamin D, protein, and exercise. 

So, what makes rural, post-menopausal women more susceptible than urban, post-menopausal women? It boils down to a number of factors, Lori says, primarily exercise. She uses the Self Determination Theory to further explain:

“Urban culture fosters autonomous behavior, or independency, that promotes a higher participation in exercise.” In other words, women with an autonomous behavior are more likely to hold their own health at high importance, and therefore are more likely to keep up with exercise and healthy habits. 

“Rural culture,” on the other hand, “fosters value relatedness,” or the value of other family members, above their own. Lori explains that women living in a rural environment are more likely to spend their time taking care of those in their family than by taking care of themselves. 

Another example that Lori gives is that “rural women don’t have access to exercise facilities.” Women living in an urban setting are more likely to live within a reasonable distance to an exercise facility than women living in a rural setting. Furthermore, Lori finds that many women living in a rural setting or on a farm are working in town rather than out in the field, and are thus not getting exercise either in a gym or on the farm. 

Lori also stresses the need to educate about bone health to women as young as possible: “more and more young people are moving to rural areas, and they may not be getting the exercise that they need,” she says. “If they understand, they can understand how to prevent it.” 

Some suggestions that Lori offers for maintaining strong bone health are to avoid heavy intake of alcohol, smoking at all costs, and to keep a healthy diet along with regular exercise. She explains that calcium, though offered in supplements, is best absorbed when taken from nutritional sources. Furthermore, Vitamin D supplements are a good precaution, especially if women aren’t being exposed to the necessary amount of sunlight that they need. Finally, protein is essential to bone health, though the appropriate amount may vary depending on your size. 

The dairy farm is what inspired Lori’s passion for rural women, but it was through her involvement in orthopedics that led her to become so dedicated to educating about the importance of bone health.