Osteoporosis is a major public health problem through associated fragility fractures. The most common sites of fracture are the hip, spine and wrist, and these have an enormous health and economic impact. All fractures result in some degree of morbidity, but fractures at the hip are associated with the worst outcomes. The worldwide direct and indirect annual costs of hip fracture in 1990 were estimated at US$34.8 billion, and are expected to increase substantially over the next 50 years. Fracture incidence varies between populations, and is set to increase over coming decades as the global population becomes more elderly. This effect will be particularly marked in the developing world, which is additionally assuming more-westernized lifestyles that predispose to increased fracture risk. Strategies to target those at high risk of fracture have been developed, but preventative measures at the public health level are also urgently needed to reduce the burden of this devastating disease.