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Body fat in children does not adversely influence bone development: a 7-year longitudinal study (EarlyBird 18)

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Summary

What is already known about this subject

  • Both negative and positive associations have been reported between body fat and bone density.
  • Extra mechanical loading from excess fat may lead to greater bone mass.
  • Excess ectopic fat may lead to bone demineralisation through inflammatory pathways.

What this study adds

  • Longitudinally collected data from narrow-angle beam densitometry gives a novel insight into bone growth through adolescence.
  • There is no evidence of a deleterious effect of body fat on children's growing bones after adjustment for height and age.
  • Body fat, mediated by puberty, is associated with larger bones in boys and bones that are both denser and larger in girls.

Objective

Bone growth is an important determinant of peak bone mass and fracture risk, but there is limited data on the impact of fat-on-bone development at a time when childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions. Accordingly, we explored the effect of body fat (BF) on bone growth over time in the context of age, pubertal tempo and gender.

Method

A cohort of 307 children was measured biannually from 9–16 years for height and weight, and every 12 months for percent BF, bone area (BA), bone mineral content and areal bone mineral density (aBMD) by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Pubertal tempo was determined quantitatively by age at peak height velocity.

Results

Percent BF increased and then fell in the boys, but increased throughout in the girls. aBMD and BA increased in both genders (P < 0.001). Greater BF was associated with higher aBMD and BA in girls (P < 0.001), but only BA in boys (P < 0.001). The extra aBMD associated with increased BF was greater in older girls. The rise in aBMD and BA was associated with earlier puberty in both genders (P < 0.001). The impact of BF on aBMD was greater in later puberty in girls (0.0025 g cm−2 per 10% BF at 10 years versus 0.016 g cm−2 per 10% BF at 14 years, P < 0.001).

Conclusion

Greater BF is associated with larger bones, but also denser bones in girls. The effects of fat and puberty are complex and gender specific, but BF of contemporary UK children does not appear to be deleterious to bone quality.

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