To determine the effect of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) on bone mass, we compared the trabecular and cortical bone density in lumbar vertebrae, measured by quantitative computed tomography (CT), in 48 white diabetic patients (23 females, 25 males; 5.2 to 19.6 years of age) with those of a control group of 48 healthy subjects, matched for race, sex, and age. Patients with neuropathy, retinopathy, nephropathy, and those with recent ketoacidosis were excluded from the study. The patient and control groups did not differ in sexual or skeletal maturation, weight, height, surface area, body mass index, abdominal fat, or paraspinal musculature. In diabetic children, cortical bone density was slightly but significantly lower than in controls (3.5% lower, P less than .02); there was no difference between patients and controls regarding trabecular bone density. The decrease in cortical bone density in the diabetic group did not correlate with age, sex, duration of diabetes, or glycosylated hemoglobin levels. These results suggest that in children with uncomplicated IDDM, decreased vertebral bone density is a minor abnormality that only affects cortical bone.