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National Osteoporosis Society (NOS)

Good food so important for young skeletons

The foods our children eat in early life does affect the health of their skeleton in childhood, research will reveal tomorrow at the Ninth Bath Conference on Osteoporosis.

Preliminary research from a huge study of children growing up in the South West of England has demonstrated a relationship between the amount of energy eaten in the diet by 18-month-old babies and how much their skeleton has grown by the age of nine.

Dr Jonathan Tobias, of the Rheumatology Unit at the University of Bristol, is presenting his team’s research at the internationally renowned conference. Their findings help to shed more scientific light on the importance of healthy eating from birth.

“This is preliminary research from a unique cohort of children so it’s very early days. Our initial findings do show that there is an association between the calorie content of the food they ate at 18 months and the density of the child’s skeleton at the age of nine,” said Dr Tobias, who has received grant funding from the NOS for this important area of work.

“Why that should be needs 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.”

The study examined diet sheets kept by the parents of 757 children, randomly drawn from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). This is one of the biggest long-term studies of children in the world and is tracking 14,000 youngsters ‘recruited’ when their mothers were pregnant.

A total of 7,500 of the children have now had their first bone density scan – at the age of about nine – enabling the researchers to compare diet at 18-months-old to the state of their skeleton as they reach the end of their first decade.

By 18 months, children are generally eating the same food as their parents. Childhood, adolescence and early adulthood are the peak times for ‘banking’ bone – so this is the time to build the maximum amount of strength into our skeleton before the inevitable bone loss which occurs later in life.

This research helps to highlight the importance of what children eat from the beginning of their lives.
The Bath Conference on Osteoporosis is now established as the leading UK conference for scientists and clinicians interested in this bone disease. Its scientific programme has an excellent international reputation attracting delegates and speakers from 25 countries throughout the world.

The Ninth Bath Conference on Osteoporosis is taking place from Monday June 23 to Thursday June 26, 2003, at the Assembly Rooms, Bath.


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