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Research Newsletter-Fall/Winter 2011

Connie Weaver, Ph.D.


Connie Weaver, Ph.D.

Dr. Connie Weaver of Purdue University was presented with the 2011 Linus Pauling Institute Prize for Health Research, consisting of a medal and $25,000, for her outstanding work on calcium and bone health. She pioneered the use of stable isotopes in elucidating calcium metabolism and has been a very effective advocate for science in the public realm.

Dr. Weaver received her B.S. from Oregon State University and a Ph.D. from Florida State University, where she held her first faculty appointment. She has been a Professor of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue since 1988, Department Head since 1991, and Distinguished Professor since 2000. Dr. Weaver has served as an advisor to many organizations and in 1996 served on the National Academy of Science' Food and Nutrition Board Dietary Reference Intakes Panel for Calcium and Related Nutrients. She was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in 2010 and the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine in 2011. She has written over 160 peer-reviewed research articles.

Dr. Weaver's lecture focused on the critical need for adequate calcium intake during skeletal development and during the "fracture zone" period after 50 years of age. About 50% of women over 50 have fractures, and there is a linear relationship between bone mineral density and the risk for fracture. Failure to reach optimal bone mineral density in adolescence predicts osteoporosis later in life. About 99% of the body's calcium is in bone, and over 30% of bone is calcium. Calcium is critical for the structural strength of bones and to reduce bone resorption by maintaining a positive calcium balance. While environment and genes play a role in bone development and health, dietary calcium intake is exceedingly important early in life. For example, bone accrual is most rapid during ages 12 to 15 for girls and boys, and peak bone mass is reached at age 20. A daily calcium intake of 1,300 mg results in maximal retention for bones, and boys more efficiently retain calcium than girls. There are also racial differences: African-American girls absorb more calcium and deposit more calcium in bones than Caucasian girls, and Chinese-American adolescents require less calcium intake for maximal retention in bones. Transient low bone mineral density for body size may explain the increased risk for fracture in teens, especially in the distal radius and among obese children. Dr. Weaver noted that without calcium supplementation, many Americans would be deficient in calcium status.

Many recommendations for calcium intake have emerged from research conducted at Purdue's "Camp Calcium," a summer camp where scientists study calcium metabolism in children, especially as affected by gender and ethnicity. Camp Calcium was started by Dr. Weaver 20 years ago to gather more information on calcium metabolism and bone health in a controlled environment.

Nomination letters cited Dr. Weaver's "strong commitment to being actively engaged in public health policy" and her work on calcium metabolism as "an elegant example of translational research, using unique and innovative technologies, that has had tremendous impact on programs that aim to maximize peak bone mass and improve bone health."

Last updated November 2011