The foods children eat appear to directly affect their bone strength in later childhood, according to research revealed at a recent conference on osteoporosis.
Preliminary research from a huge study of children growing up in the south-west of England demonstrates a relationship between the amount of energy consumed in the diet by 18-month-old children and skeleton density at nine years old.
Dr Jonathan Tobias, of the Rheumatology Unit at the University of Bristol, presented the research at the ninth Bath conference on osteoporosis. He warned that the results came from preliminary research and needed further investigation.
"It may be that children with 'bigger bones' just eat more. Is it because they are hungrier or is there a genetic influence? There are lots of questions to be asked and following this group of children from before birth as they grow up will help us to find the answers," he said.
The study examined diet records kept by the parents of 757 children, randomly drawn from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), one of the biggest long-term studies of children in the world that tracks 14,000 infants 'recruited' when their mothers were pregnant.
By 18 months, children are generally eating the same food as their parents, noted the researchers. Childhood, adolescence and early adulthood are the peak times for 'banking' bone, an important period for building the maximum amount of skeleton strength before the inevitable bone loss later in life.
The research gives further credence to the importance of diet at an early age. Also this week we reported on a study showing that dietary antioxidants in childhood could be important for fighting the ageing process.
The Ninth Bath Conference on Osteoporosis took place from 23-26 June 2003, at the Assembly Rooms, Bath.