In a longitudinal study, we investigated the influence of risk factors on bone mass at menopause and postmenopausal bone loss in 121 healthy postmenopausal women. These women had completed a 2-year prospective study in 1979 and a follow-up examination in 1989. Measurements of the bone mineral content in the distal forearm (single photon absorptiometry) were performed 9 times during the initial study and once at the follow-up examination. Bone mass at menopause (initial measurement), rate of early postmenopausal bone loss, and the subsequent rate of bone loss over 10 years were thus determined. In addition, the bone mineral density of the lumbar spine and proximal femur was measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) in 1989. Information about risk factors was assessed by standardized questionnaires and included reproductive history and lifestyle factors (intake of calcium and vitamin D supplements, consumption of alcohol and caffeine, smoking habits, and physical activity). Lactation, oral contraceptive use, and dietary calcium intake above 1500 mg per day was associated with significantly increased bone mass at menopause. The number of pregnancies reduced the rate of early postmenopausal bone loss, whereas moderate alcohol consumption reduced the subsequent rate of bone loss. Smoking significantly reduced femoral bone mineral density. In conclusion, the present prospective study showed that some of the examined putative risk factors positively influenced bone mass at menopause, especially calcium intake, whereas the postmenopausal bone loss was virtually unaffected. Assessment of risk factors in postmenopausal women thus seems to have limited value for reducing future risk of osteoporosis.