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Whole body bone mineral accretion in healthy children and adolescents


Data on accretion in bone size and bone mineral content (BMC) are needed to evaluate bone mineralisation during childhood. Whole body bone mineral content (BMC) and bone area (BA) were determined by dual energy x ray absorptiometry (Hologic 1000/W) with a one year interval in healthy girls (n = 192) and boys (n = 140) aged 6–19 years. Annual accretion in BMC (ΔBMC (g/year)) and BA (ΔBA (cm2/year)) according to sex and pubertal stages were calculated. ΔBA and ΔBMC were highly significantly associated with pubertal stages in girls and boys. Centile curves for ΔBA and ΔBMC according to sex and age were constructed using the LMS method. Peak ΔBA and ΔBMC values were reached earlier in girls (12.3 and 12.5 years, respectively) than in boys (13.4 and 14.2 years, respectively). The ΔBA peak was dissociated in time from the ΔBMC peak, indicating that increase in bone size occurs before increase in bone mineral content. Assuming that 32.2% of BMC consist of calcium, the median (90th centile) annual bone calcium accretion in pubertal stage III was 220 mg/day (302) and 317 mg/day (386) for girls and boys, respectively. To obtain an average bone calcium accretion, a high calcium absorption is needed during puberty. This may have implications for dietary calcium requirements at this time.

  • bone growth
  • bone mineral content
  • dual energyx ray absorptiometry

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Bone growth during childhood and adolescence is of major importance for the size of the peak bone mass. It is generally accepted that those who achieve a higher peak bone mass are less at risk of having an osteoporotic fracture later in life.1 2 Bone calcium accretion has been studied previously by balance studies,3 4 but these only cover short time periods and are difficult in children. Dual energy x ray absorptiometry (DXA) is a non-invasive technique used to measure the amount of hydroxyapatite in bones (bone mineral content; BMC), with high precision and a very low radiation dose. Therefore, repeated DXA scans can be performed in children, making it possible to calculate bone calcium accretion and study the pattern of bone mineralisation during growth.

During puberty there is a considerable increase in bone mass.5 6 Increased bone mass can result either from increase in bone size, bone density, or both. Bone size depends on both bone length and bone width. Recently, Fournier et al have shown an asynchrony between the rates of height gain and gain in regional bone mineral density (lumbar, femoral neck, midfemoral shaft) during puberty, with the former occurring earlier.7The dissociation in time was clearly related to pubertal stage. In a study on whole body bone mass, Martin et alfound a similar dissociation between gain in height and gain in BMC, but did not report pubertal stages.6

The increase in bone mass during puberty is mainly caused by an increase in bone size, but it has also been shown in cross sectional studies that the real bone density measured by computed tomography scans8 and the size adjusted BMC measured by DXA9 increase during late puberty.

Several cross sectional studies have presented normative data for regional and whole body bone mineralisation in children and adolescents, measured by single photon absorptiometry or DXA.10-16 However, there are few longitudinal studies describing bone accretion in children and adolescents,5-7and most studies are based on measurements of part of the skeleton only.5 7

In our study, we considered accretion in whole body BMC and bone area (BA) for both girls and boys aged 6.5–19.5 years. The aim was to analyse the relation between age, puberty, and growth in bone size and BMC to help in the understanding of the biology of bone mineralisation during puberty. Furthermore, we hoped to provide data for age dependent growth in bone size and BMC in healthy children and adolescents, for use in research and clinical practice.

Subjects and methods


Our study is based on a one year follow up of a previously published cross sectional study with school children from five schools in Copenhagen.10 Of the 343 (201 girls, 142 boys) healthy individuals participating in the cross sectional study, 97% (192 girls, 140 boys) were re-examined one year later (mean (SD), 1.02 years (0.07)). Table 1 gives basic information on the study population, but more detailed information has been published previously.10

Table 1

Mean age over the period, annual accretion in height, and weight according to sex and pubertal stage at the first examination


One hundred and seventy six girls and 137 boys participating in the follow up study had their pubertal stages assessed according to Tanner17 18 at the first examination. Breast development in girls and pubic hair development in boys were used to assess pubertal stage. Height and weight were measured before DXA scanning. Height was determined to the nearest 1 mm using a stadiometer. Weight was measured to the nearest 0.1 kg using a digital electronic instrument. Subjects wore only pants and a cotton T-shirt when weighed.


Whole body BMC (measured in grams of hydroxyapatite) and bone size expressed as anterior–posterior projected BA (measured in cm2) were determined by DXA scanning using a Hologic 1000/W (Hologic Inc, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA). For analysis, software version 5.61 was used. Subjects wore only pants and a cotton T-shirt during the scan. For quality control, spine phantoms were scanned daily. The coefficients of variation for these BMC and BA measurements on a spine phantom over a period of two years (n = 358) were 0.37% and 0.28%, respectively. For each scanning the entrance radiation dose level was 15 μSv, with an effective dose not more than 10 μSv, equal to about one day’s background radiation in Denmark.


The weight for height and the height for age distributions of the individuals were compared with a Danish sex specific reference.19 The result of this analysis has been reported earlier10; it showed that the children were taller for age and heavier for height compared with the 20 year old Danish reference data.19 This is in accordance with the general pattern that both the height of the children and the prevalence of overweight children has increased in Scandinavia.20-22

Annual gain in height (ΔH (cm/year)), weight (ΔW (kg/year)), BMC (ΔBMC (g/year)), and BA (ΔBA (cm2/year)) were calculated from the two measurements corrected to exactly one year by dividing the difference in measurement by the difference in age (years). Annual bone calcium accretion rates expressed as mg calcium/day (ΔCa) according to pubertal stages were calculated assuming that 32.2% of the BMC measured by Hologic instruments is calcium23 (ΔCa (mg/day) = (ΔBMC (g/year)*1000*0.322)/365).

We derived smooth centile curves for ΔBA and ΔBMC versus mean age over the period using the LMS method.24 This summarises the distribution of the dependent variable (for example, ΔBMC) given the covariate by a Box-Cox power (L), depending on the skewness of the distribution, the median (M), and the coefficient of variation (S), giving smooth curves for the dependence of L, M, and S on the covariate. In our study a modified version adding 300 to the BA and BMC accretion was used, because negative accretion occurred; thus, the centiles are based on the assumption that the variable Z, defined as:

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is standard normally distributed. Therefore, these formulae may be used to calculate the Z score of an observed value of ΔBMC or ΔBA given the value of the covariate. The range of the covariate age was reduced to eliminate edge effects caused by single extreme values. Thus, we considered the age interval 6.5–19.5 years (both sexes).

The influence of pubertal stage on ΔBA and ΔBMC was estimated by maximum likelihood in a linear mixed model allowing the variance to depend on pubertal stage. The pubertal stages were entered as four binary covariates, each measuring the change from one pubertal stage to the next. All tests were based on the likelihood ratio test statistic.


Table 2 shows annual accretion rates in BMC (g/year), BA (cm2/year), and calcium (mg/day) according to sex and pubertal stage at first examination.

Table 2

Annual accretion in bone mineral content (BMC), bone area, and bone calcium according to sex and pubertal stage at the first examination


The sex specific, age dependent centile curves for ΔBA (fig 1) and ΔBMC (fig 2) showed a large variation around the median, especially for the boys between 11 and 16 years. The Box-Cox power (L), the median (M), and the coefficient of variation (S) for ΔBA (cm2/year) and ΔBMC (g/year) by sex and age are shown in tables 3 and 4, respectively. Using these values, it is possible to calculate Z scores for individual children. The girls’ curves peaked earlier than those of the boys’ for both ΔBA (fig 1) and ΔBMC (fig2). The peak ages for ΔBA were 12.3 and 13.4 years for girls and boys, respectively, whereas the peak ages for ΔBMC were 12.5 and 14.2 years, respectively. The ΔBA and ΔBMC curves were of similar shape except that ΔBA peaked earlier than ΔBMC for both girls and boys, most distinctly in boys (figs 1 and 2). Eight boys between the ages of 11 and 13.5 years had a ΔBMC above the 90th centile. Six of these boys (75%) were in pubertal stage III, while only 8% of the boys below the 90th centile were in pubertal stage III. The youngest boys in pubertal stage III (< 13.5 years; n = 8) had a particularly high ΔBMC, with a median Z score of 1.72 (range, −0.54 to 2.29).

Figure 1

Centile curves for annual whole body bone area accretion (cm2/year) according to sex and age (years).

Figure 2

Centile curves for annual whole body bone mineral content (BMC) accretion (g/year) according to sex and age (years).

Table 3

Annual bone area (BA) accretion for age. The parameters M (median), L, and S used in the modified formula for BA accretion (cm2/year) by sex and age (see Statistical Methods section)

Table 4

Annual bone mineral content (BMC) accretion for age. The parameters M (median), L, and S used in the modified formula for BMC accretion (g/year) by sex and age (see Statistical Methods section)

ΔBA and ΔBMC were significantly associated with pubertal stage for girls (χ2(4) = 88.54 and χ2(4) = 64.20, respectively; both p < 0.0001) and boys (χ2(4) = 67.12 and χ2(4) = 55.29, respectively; both p < 0.0001). ΔBA was highest in pubertal stage III for both girls and boys, but not significantly different from pubertal stage II in girls and boys (girls: χ2(1) = 0.187, p = 0.67; boys: χ2(1) = 2.07, p = 0.15), and borderline significantly different from pubertal stage IV in boys (χ2(1) = 3.52, p = 0.06). ΔBMC was highest in pubertal stage III for both girls and boys, but only borderline significantly different from pubertal stage II in girls (χ2(1) = 2.83, p = 0.09), and pubertal stage IV in boys (χ2(1) = 2.975, p = 0.08).


Our longitudinal study on whole body bone mineralisation confirmed the close relation between pubertal stages and gain in BMC and bone size described previously for regional bone mineralisation. Our study showed a dissociation in time between peak growth in bone size and the peak growth in BMC. To our knowledge, this is the first study reporting longitudinal data on whole body BA in a wide age range for both girls and boys.

We have only presented centile curves for whole body BA accretion and for whole body BMC accretion. We chose not to use bone mineral density (BMD) calculated as BMC/BA because BMD measured with anterior–posterior osteodensitometry represents a mixture of true density and skeletal size, as described previously.10 25-27

We suggest that our data may be used for assessing growth of whole body BMC and BA of children for clinical or research purposes. However, for young boys in pubertal stage III, extremely high Z scores for BMC accretion may be anticipated. Attained BA and BMC can be evaluated using the data based on the first examination of these children.10 However, there are some limitations to the use of our dataset as a reference because of the limited number of children in each age and sex group, and because only 25% of the children approached agreed to participate, as described in more detail previously.10 Nevertheless, it is one of the most comprehensive sets of data on whole body measurements available at present. For daily clinical use, an individual may be plotted on centile charts like those shown in figs 1 and 2. (Single copies of large centile charts can be obtained from the authors.) If a more accurate centile or Z score is required, the Z score can be calculated using the equations presented above by inserting the measured ΔBA or ΔBMC and L, M, and S values corresponding to the mean age over the period presented in tables 3 and 4. When using these data for calculation of Z scores for ΔBA and ΔBMC, the calculation of ΔBA and ΔBMC should be based on measurements determined with an approximate one year interval corrected exactly to one year, as described above.

Our data indicate that the median accretion rates for both ΔBA and ΔBMC are similar for the two sexes before puberty (tables 3 and 4). This is in agreement with Theintz et al,5 who found no sex differences between the ages of 9 and 11 years for bone mass accretion in lumbar spine, femoral neck, and femoral shaft. Recently, Martin et al have published data on whole body BMC accretion also showing that the accretion rates were similar for girls and boys aged 9–10 years (130 g/year).6

We observed an earlier age for peak accretion in both ΔBA and ΔBMC for girls (12.3 and 12.5 years, respectively) compared with boys (13.4 and 14.2 years, respectively), which is in agreement with the earlier age of puberty in girls. An earlier age for the regional bone mass accretion peak for girls compared with boys was also found by Theintzet al.5 The age at peak accretion in both ΔBA and ΔBMC in our study was similar to that seen by Martin and colleagues6 in Canadian children, where the difference in age between peak in ΔBA and ΔBMC was also most pronounced in boys. The earlier peak in BA accretion rate in relation to the peak in BMC accretion rate in both girls and boys indicated a dissociation between growth in bone size and growth in BMC during puberty. The dissociation between accretion rate in BA and BMC is also supported by a study showing that the fracture rate in children is highest around peak height velocity, and this could not be explained by increase in physical activity.28 Blimkieet al found that a lag in cortical bone thickness and mineralisation relative to linear skeletal growth appeared to be the predominant factors associated with the increased fracture incidence in Belgian boys during the growth spurt.29 This dissociation between growth in bone size and growth in BMC is in agreement with our longitudinal data. In summary, studies of both regional and whole body mineralisation corroborate the dissociation in time between growth in bone size and growth in BMC during puberty that was pointed out many years ago by Krabbeet al.30

Few longitudinal whole body DXA datasets have been published. Lloyd and colleagues31 published data from an intervention study of 12 year old girls in mid-puberty using a QDR Hologic 1000/W, as used in our study, although the software version was not mentioned. From their data, a BMC accretion rate of 257 g/year can be calculated, which is similar to the median ΔBMC for 12 year old girls in our study (255 g/year). In the study of Martin et al,6 in which bone measurements were obtained by a QDR Hologic 2000 (software version 5.56A), the peak accretion for ΔBA in boys and girls was 212 and 174 cm2/year, respectively, which is below our values for girls and a little above our values for boys. In the same study, the peak accretion for ΔBMC in boys and girls was 320 and 240 g/year, respectively, which is similar to our values for girls but above our values for boys. When our data were expressed according to pubertal stage, the values in pubertal stage III were similar to the peak values in the study by Martinet al,6 so the difference in accretion values according to age might be caused by differences in the timing of puberty between the two studies.

Our data on bone calcium accretion (table 2) showed that in normal children in mid-puberty, a relatively high calcium retention is needed. The bone calcium accretion values calculated from our DXA measurements are similar to the values obtained by others using balance studies. Jackman et al examined the relation between calcium retention and calcium intake in girls aged 12–14 years (mean, 12.7) and found an increase in retention with increase in calcium intake.4 The retention was measured by balance studies over two weeks. For a calcium intake of ∼ 1100 mg/day in that study, the calcium retention was ∼ 300 mg/day for girls at menarche. In our study, girls in Tanner stage III had a median calcium intake of 1146 mg/day32 and a median calcium retention of 220 mg/day over the following year, which means that the retention in shorter periods was probably considerably higher. Thus, in both balance and DXA studies, it has been shown that calcium retention is high in mid-puberty. Therefore, during puberty, children with a low calcium intake need a high calcium absorption rate to obtain an average bone mineralisation. Most children in Western countries who do not drink milk will have a very low calcium intake, typically 300–400 mg/day.33 If their calcium intake is below 500 mg/day, more than 50% of the ingested calcium should then be retained in the bones to obtain an average mineral accretion. It is not known to what extent children can adapt to a low calcium intake by increasing the absorption capacity, but the high calcium retention in normal puberty indicates that a low calcium intake during puberty may limit bone mineralisation. Whether a negative influence on bone mineralisation during puberty will also affect peak bone mass negatively is unknown because it has not been shown to what extent children can catch up later in adolescence. To examine this further, longitudinal studies are needed that follow children who have a varying calcium intake from before puberty to adulthood.

In conclusion, we have presented centile curves for annual bone area and bone mineral content accretion according to sex and age in school age children and adolescents. We found a very strong relation between pubertal stages and both bone size and bone mineral accretion. In puberty we observed a dissociation in time between the peak in bone size accretion and the peak in bone mineral accretion.


This study was financed by FØTEK (The Danish Research and Development Programme for Food Technology) and the Danish Dairy Research Foundation. We are grateful to B Hermansen for valuable assistance with the DXA scanning.