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Expert View: Dr. Robert Heaney Explains His Groundbreaking 40 Year Bone Study on Nuns

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Forty years ago in 1967 nearly 200 nuns in the Omaha area enrolled in a study run by Creighton University researcher Dr. Robert Heaney. Results gathered over 25 years of in-hospital studies and later from bi-yearly checkups served as the basis for the calcium intake recommendations for adult women.

EmpowHer is honored to introduce to you Dr. Robert Heaney from the Creighton University Osteoporosis Research Center. He is internationally recognized in the field of bone, biology, and calcium nutrition. “Dr. Heaney, thank you so much for helping us empower women.”

Dr. Heaney: “My pleasure.”

EmpowHer: “Doctor, how hard was it in 1967 to find 200 nuns that were willing and able to be a part of your revolutionary study?”

Dr. Heaney: “It was not hard at all. I knew that I needed to get on the stick before it was too late. The problem of osteoporosis has been around for a long time and I was ending up studying women who already had it. I realized that I needed to study women who are still healthy to see what changes were occurring in their bodies which might lead them to the point where they would suffer with osteoporosis later on. So I said to myself, how can I do that? I knew that nuns get osteoporosis and I knew that they have relatively more freedom to make long-term commitments. In contrast, married women with growing kids and a husband who might get transferred around the country just do not have the kind of freedom that would be needed to make a 20-25 year commitment to be involved in a study. So I contacted the Mother Superiors of six nunneries that were located in our region and asked if they would be interested in participating in the study. Once they accepted I drafted a letter for them to send out to all of the members who were between ages 35 and 45.”

EmpowHer: “Doctor, I am just picturing this letter showing up at the nunnery where Maria is before she meets the Von Trapp Family. Is that an accurate picture?”

Dr. Heaney: “Well, I spoke personally with the Mother Superiors and they said they would send letters out to their people wherever they were located. Of course when you get a letter from the Mother Superior saying, “I think this is a good idea”, why wouldn’t you join? I got an 85 percent response in volunteer aid from that support. So we got essentially everybody, or five out of six people in those communities who were in the target age, and they have been with me for most of the last 40 years.”

EmpowHer: “Wow, it is so amazing! Their dedication has provided so much research for women to understand this issue.”

Dr. Heaney: “When we had a birthday celebration of the project earlier this spring, the President of the university addressed the nuns who were able to come and have some cakes and fun with us. He said, ‘You know I have thanked nuns in the past for what they have given me but now I am thanking them for what they gave my mother, because the information which we generated from their study has literally written the book on what the calcium requirement may be for older women.’”


Dr. Robert Heaney is from Creighton University Osteoporosis Research Center is internationally recognized in the field of bone, biology, and calcium nutrition. Visit Dr. Heaney on the web at Creighton University at http://osteoporosis.creighton.edu

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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