The epidemiological correlation between osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease is independent of age, but the basis for this correlation is unknown. We previously found that atherogenic oxidized lipids inhibit osteoblastic differentiation in vitro and ex vivo, suggesting that an atherogenic diet may contribute to both diseases. In this study, effects of an atherogenic high-fat diet versus control chow diet on bone were tested in two strains of mice with genetically different susceptibility to atherosclerosis and lipid oxidation. After 4 months and 7 months on the diets, mineral content and density were measured in excised femurs and lumbar vertebrae using peripheral quantitative computed tomographic (pQCT) scanning. In addition, expression of osteocalcin in marrow isolated from the mice after 4 months on the diets was examined. After 7 months, femoral mineral content in C57BL/6 atherosclerosis-susceptible mice on the high-fat diet was 43% lower (0.73 +/- 0.09 mg vs. 1.28 +/- 0.42 mg; p = 0.008), and mineral density was 15% lower compared with mice on the chow diet. Smaller deficits were observed after 4 months. Vertebral mineral content also was lower in the fat-fed C57BL/6 mice. These changes in the atherosclerosis-resistant, C3H/HeJ mice were smaller and mostly not significant. Osteocalcin expression was reduced in the marrow of high fat-fed C57BL/6 mice. These findings suggest that an atherogenic diet inhibits bone formation by blocking differentiation of osteoblast progenitor cells.