In an observational study, 12-year-old girls with a high fruit consumption were found to have significantly higher heel bone mineral density than moderate fruit consumers.
"It is possible that fruit's alkaline-forming properties mediate the body's acid-base balance," write the scientists from the Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health at the University of Ulster.
"However, intervention studies are required to confirm the findings of this observational study," they add in this month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (vol 80, no 4, 1019-1023).
Previous research, commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency on more than 3,000 Scottish women, found a possible link between eating fruit and vegetables and stronger hip bones in women before and around the time of menopause.
But studies examining the relation between bone mineral density and fruit and vegetable consumption during adolescence are rare, noted the Northern Irish researchers. They used data on usual fruit and vegetable consumption gathered by an interviewer-administered diet history method.
Bone mineral density was measured at the nondominant forearm and dominant heel in a random sample of more than 300 boys aged 12, 378 girls the same age, and around 600 boys and girls aged 15 years old.
After adjusting for the potential influence of physical and lifestyle factors, they noticed that 12-year-old girls consuming high amounts of fruit had significantly higher bone mineral density at the heel than the moderate fruit consumers. No other associations were observed.
Bone mineral density during early adolescence is key to prevention of osteoporosis in later life. The brittle bone disease is now one of the biggest global health concerns according to the World Health Organisation, and is set to increase with ageing populations.