Bone Growth in Infancy and Childhood Affects Bone Density When Aging

Bone-Healthy Living / Research / March 23, 2012

Chances that a baby who is born with low birth weight or of shorter than the average/mean height or both growing into adult facing fragile bones is more high than for a baby who had good weight and height statistics at birth.  Researchers from the University of Southampton have teamed up with a study group in New Delhi to look at a birth cohort. A birth cohort study is one which examines persons born on the same day/period and are exposed to similar variable factors/conditions such as a drug/medical procedure or pollutant etc – that is they share some characteristics.

The study is being conducted over a decade where scientists have been trying to establish a relationship between height, body mass index (BMI) and the outcomes it spells into adulthood for the cohort group. The adulthood outcomes were those of diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, bone density etc. (1)

The findings of the study which were published online in Osteoporosis International suggested that nutrition during childhood was critical to prevention of osteoporosis in adulthood. It clearly pointed that:

  • size and height affected bone mass in adulthood.
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) in childhood affected bone density in adulthood.

BMI is an indicative but popular measure that evaluates the person’s weight unit for every height unit of the body and thus provides a ready indication if the person is in the normal weight range, overweight or obese range. A BMI reading of < 25 is considered normal or healthy; a reading in the range of 25 but lesser than or equal to 29 is considered overweight and one above 30 is considered obese. The basic objective of arriving at BMI is to have an underweight or overweight person come into the healthy range through changes in nutrition and diet.

The research was lead by Professor Caroline Fall of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton. The basic aim of the study was to understand what the common causes were to diseases that affected different stages of life right from conception to old age. It also focussed on how external and environmental factors affected the gene expression that caused the diseases to develop. Bone mass and bone density were measured at the lumbar spine, femoral neck and forearm and compared to birth size and childhood weight and height growth among 565 men and women. (2)

According to Professor Fall, “The risk of osteoporotic fracture depends on two factors: the mechanical strength of bone and the forces applied to it. We know that bone mass is an established determinant of bone strength and adult bone mass depends upon the peak attained during skeletal growth and the subsequent rate of bone loss. Peak bone mass is partly inherited, but environmental and lifestyle factors do play a part too. If we can improve childhood nutrition and that of the mother while pregnant, the risk of bone disease in later life can be reduced.” (3)

Researchers have come to note the importance of studying cohorts in both developing and developed nations to be able to pin down the factors and the early origins of diseases and disorders like osteoporosis.



  1. Early Bone Growth Linked to Bone Density in Later Life; Science Daily; February 2012;
  2. Relation of Serial Changes in Childhood Body-Mass Index to Impaired Glucose Tolerance in Young Adulthood; The New England Journal of Medicine; February 2012;
  3. Southampton research shows early bone growth linked to bone density in later life; University of Southampton – News release; February 2012;
  4. Growth from birth to adulthood and peak bone mass and density data from the New Delhi Birth Cohort; Osteoporosis International – SpringerLink; February 2012;

Author: Monica Straith, BS

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