Bone mass declines and the risk of fractures increases as people age, especially as women pass through the menopause. Hip fractures, the most serious outcome of osteoporosis, are becoming more frequent than before because the world's population is ageing and because the frequency of hip fractures is increasing by 1–3% per year in most areas of the world. Rates of hip fracture vary more widely from region to region than does the prevalance of vertebral fractures. Low bone density and previous fractures are risk factors for almost all types of fracture, but each type of fracture also has its own unique risk factors. Prevention of fractures with drugs could potentially be as expensive as medical treatment of fractures. Therefore, epidemiological research should be done and used to identify individuals at high-risk of disabling fractures, thereby allowing careful allocation of expensive treatments to individuals most in need.