The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) is to carry out a multi-faceted study aimed at improving the diagnosis and monitoring of the bone-weakening disease, osteoporosis. The vast majority of individuals affected by the disease are women, with the greatest risk coming in later life. Diet and family history can also be contributing factors. The effects of osteoporosis have a serious impact on sufferers and EU economies. 'Fractures are the most serious complication of osteoporosis, but of special concern are fractures of the hip and spine,' explains Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. Hip fractures 'may cause prolonged or permanent disability and reduce the quality of life. Hospital costs for hip fractures alone amounted to over 3,500 million euro in the EU in 1999.' With the proportion of the EU population aged over 80 set to triple over the next 50 years, it has been decided that action is essential. To this end, an EU-funded project called OSTEODIET has been established to look at a new isotopic tracer method for assessing the impact of diet on bone loss. This technique will be compared against established bone mineral density measurements and biochemical marker methods to evaluate its effectiveness. A study of a group of women in Zurich, Switzerland, is already underway. The advantage of the new tracer method is that it can identify changes in bone metabolism in less than two months, which, when compared with up to two years for existing techniques, represents a significant advance. Millions of people within the EU suffer from osteoporosis, but many only become aware of their condition after suffering a fracture. Therefore, a low cost, easy to use method for osteoporosis diagnosis and bone quality monitoring would allow high risk patients to be identified, and appropriate action to be taken to reduce bone fracture probability. The JRC's research into osteoporosis aims to help achieve such a method.