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Bones: it's more than just anklebone connected to the shinbone

Unless we break one, it’s easy to take bones for granted. An interactive exhibit at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, “Bone Up On Bones,” illustrates the importance of human bones. Running through May 11, the exhibit takes an inside look at the human skeletal system, the connection between bone health and overall well being and how to keep bones healthy and strong throughout a lifetime.

“Bone health is a very important issue, but many people think they do not need to worry about it until they get older,” said museum director Libby Hartfield. “Our goal with this exhibit is to help young visitors understand at an early age how to maintain healthy bones and help older visitors learn how to minimize their risk of osteoporosis.”

Never too early (or late)

Osteoporosis is a serious medical condition that currently affects more than 40 million Americans. The exhibit explains that it is never too early or too late to start tending to our bones.

Baptist Health Systems is one of several sponsors of the exhibit because it feels the more educated people are about their health, the more likely they are to be pro active in their healthcare.

“The health of bones and joints is often something that is taken for granted until it becomes compromised,” said Krista Blanchard, a certified physician assistant in the system’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery. “The ‘Bone Up On Bones’ exhibit is an excellent way for children and adults alike to become more aware of the importance of having healthy bones and joints and how to maintain that health.”

Another sponsor, St. Dominic Health Services, feels sponsoring the exhibit is important because St. Dominic’s mission is rooted in helping build a healthier community.

“Supporting the arts and learning experiences for our citizens are a part of that,” spokeswoman Renee Rollins said. “Mississippi is rich in cultural and educational opportunities and these will only continue to grow and expand if the business community gets involved. When we make an investment like this, supporting a museum exhibit, we are enriching the lives of those who come to see it.”

Other sponsors of the exhibit include: Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi; the Bower Foundation; Field Cooperative Association; Methodist Rehabilitation Center; Sanderson Farms; Mississippi Chiropractic Association; Mississippi Sports Medicine; the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science Foundation; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks; Marianne and Jack Dempsey; Dr. and Mrs. Don Q. Mitchell; Dr. Ann Myers; Carol and Cavett Taff; Dr. and Mrs. Steve Zachow; Jackie and Avery Rollins; and, Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence Haber.

Many sources of support

“We are so fortunate to have the support of our community partners, such as Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, and our other sponsors as well as our dedicated foundation members,” Hartfield said. “Our local medical community has really stepped up to support Bones, and we will hold several health screenings at the Museum this spring. Their expertise and advice have helped us to interpret this exhibit and convey key messages to our visitors about healthy bones.”

Chris Zachow, president of the foundation, said the support the museum receives from the Mississippi Legislature keeps the lights on and the doors open, enabling the foundation and private partners to secure special exhibits such as this one.

“With their support, we can regularly mount these dynamic exhibits that enrich the lives of Mississippians and provide enjoyment and education to nearly 150,000 visitors from all 50 states and many foreign countries that tour the museum annually,” she added.

The exhibit shows the marvels of the human skeletal system through hands-on activities and multi-media presentations. These include an eight-foot sculpture of a femur, impressive bone illustrations, a puzzle that challenges visitors to connect the anklebone to the shinbone — all offering an unusual blend of education and art. The 2,000-square-foot exhibit uses more than a dozen exhibit components, computer stations, fiber optic displays and videos to give a comprehensive look at bone structure and health.

Blanchard and Terri Meadows of Baptist Health System’s Joints and More Program explain that maintaining healthy bones requires a lifestyle of a healthy diet that includes calcium and vitamin D, exercise, not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, exercise and regular check ups.

‘Healthy eating and physical activity’

“Teaching a lifestyle of healthy eating and physical activity in childhood is the best way to build healthy bones as children grow,” Meadows said, “and prevent future problems such as osteoporosis and fractures. Also, smoking increases loss of bone mass and drinking too much alcohol increases the risk of falling and breaking a bone.”

She notes that the body can “make” calcium through the breakdown of bone tissue if not enough calcium is consumed through foods such as dairy products, leafy vegetables, beans and nuts. Vitamin D is important for good bone health because it aids in the absorption and utilization of calcium.

“There is a high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in people living in nursing homes, hospitalized patients and seniors with hip fractures,” she said. “Vitamin D is produced in the body by being in the sun for at least 20 minutes every day or can be consumed from eggs, fatty fish, cereal and milk that are fortified with vitamin D.”

Among the interesting facts about bones that are featured in the exhibit, visitors will learn of bones’ ability to rebuild themselves. It is estimated that the human skeleton is completely replaced every two years.

“Throughout our lives, bones are constantly breaking down and being rebuilt. As we age, this process slows down and can eventually lead to osteoporosis,” Meadows said. “Diet and exercise are very important to preserving bone mass but may not be enough if enough bone density has been lost.”

She adds that medications can slow down bone loss and some medications can speed up the rebuilding of new bone.

For more information about the exhibit, visit the Museum’s Web site at www.msnaturalscience.org.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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