The bone mineral density (BMD) of the lumbar spine (L1-L4) was measured by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (Hologic QDR 1000) in 135 healthy caucasian children, aged 1-15 yr, and values were correlated with age, height, weight, body surface, bone age, pubertal status, calcium intake, vitamin D supplementation, and serum bone gla protein. BMD increased with age in children of both sexes (r = 0.88; P less than 0.001) from 0.446 +/- 0.048 g/cm2 at 1 yr to 0.625 +/- 0.068 g/cm2 at 10 yr and 0.891 +/- 0.123 g/cm2 at 15 yr of age. The increase was steeper at the time of puberty, reaching values above 0.80 g/cm2 after puberty was achieved. There were no significant differences between boys and girls, except at the age of 12 yr when BMD was higher in girls than in boys (P = 0.007), probably because of the earlier onset of puberty in females. BMD was also highly correlated with height, weight, body surface, and bone age. BMD was not correlated with calcium intake when age was held constant, nor with vitamin D supplementation. Serum bone gla protein showed a steady increase during childhood, with peak values at 11-12 yr of age, and was weakly but significantly correlated with BMD (r = 0.27; P = 0.007). Because of low irradiation exposure, rapid scanning, and high precision, dual energy x-ray absorptiometry is a noninvasive method which is well adapted to the child. It should be helpful in the investigation and follow-up of children with diseases impairing bone metabolism.