Bone strength, a key determinant of fracture risk, has been shown to display clear sexual dimorphism after puberty. We sought to determine whether sex differences in bone mass and hip bone geometry as an index of strength exist in school-age prepubertal children and the degree to which the differences are independent of body size and lean mass. We studied 3514 children whose whole-body and hip scans were measured using the same densitometer (GE-Lunar iDXA) at a mean age of 6.2 years. Hip dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans underwent hip structural analyses (HSA) with derivation of bone strength indices. Sex differences in these parameters were assessed by regression models adjusted for age, height, ethnicity, weight, and lean mass fraction (LMF). Whole-body bone mineral density (BMD) and bone mineral content (BMC) levels were 1.3% and 4.3% higher in girls after adjustment by LMF. Independent of LMF, boys had 1.5% shorter femurs, 1.9% and 2.2% narrower shaft and femoral neck with 1.6% to 3.4% thicker cortices than girls. Consequent with this geometry configuration, girls observed 6.6% higher stresses in the medial femoral neck than boys. When considering LMF, the sexual differences on the derived bone strength indices were attenuated, suggesting that differences in muscle loads may reflect an innate disadvantage in bone strength in girls, as consequence of their lower muscular acquisition. In summary, we show that bone sexual dimorphism is already present at 6 years of age, with boys having stronger bones than girls, the relation of which is influenced by body composition and likely attributable to differential adaptation to mechanical loading. Our results support the view that early life interventions (ie, increased physical activity) targeted during the pre- and peripubertal stages may be of high importance, particularly in girls, because before puberty onset, muscle mass is strongly associated with bone density and geometry in children.

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Journal of Bone and Mineral Research
Generation R Study Group

Medina-Gomez, C., Heppe, D., Yin, J.-L., Trajanoska, K., Uitterlinden, A., Beck, T., … Rivadeneira Ramirez, F. (2016). Bone Mass and Strength in School-Age Children Exhibit Sexual Dimorphism Related to Differences in Lean Mass: The Generation R Study. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 31(5), 1099–1106. doi:10.1002/jbmr.2755