No bones about it: Age at puberty could affect skeletal strength

August 12, 2019

A study recently conducted at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom has linked the bone strength of teenagers and young adults to the age at which they reached puberty.

Published on August 9 in the open access medical journal,  JAMA Network Open, the research examined six repeated bone scans from 6,389 children who participated in Bristol’s Children of the 90s study between the ages of ten and 25 to assess if the timing of puberty had any influence on bone density throughout adolescence and into early adulthood.

They found that, although teens who had their pubertal growth spurt later than their peers did catch-up to some degree, they continued to have lower bone density than average for several years into adulthood.

Peak bone mass at the end of the teenage growth spurts is considered to be an indication of later risk of fracture and osteoporosis. Lead author and Senior Research Associate in Epidemiology Dr. Ahmed Elhakeem said, “Our research adds to the evidence that children who mature later may be at increased risk of fractures as they grow. They may also have increased risk of the fragile bone condition osteoporosis in later life.”

“Thanks to the ‘Children of the 90s study,’ we were able to look, for the first time, at children in great detail as they grow into young adults and observe their bone density. I’d like to see more advice available for people who reach puberty later on measures they can take to strengthen their bones.

He added, “The next steps should involve more detailed assessments of the long-term effects of puberty on growth and bone development.”

Alison Doyle, head of Operations and Clinical Practice at the Royal Osteoporosis Society, said, “This is important research that adds to a current gap in the evidence of understanding how bone density changes from puberty into early adulthood …. “The charity’s Osteoporosis and Bone Research Academy, which launched earlier this year, is working to build on these findings and create a future without osteoporosis.”

The study did not make conclusions on any influence of the final adult height on the findings. As the study participants are still only in their twenties, follow up with them as they age will be important to reach conclusions about fractures in later life.

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