Background: Because growing bone possesses a greater capacity to adapt to mechanical loading than does mature bone, it is important for girls to engage in weight-bearing activities, especially since the prevalence of osteoporosis among older women is considerably higher than that of older men. In recent years, the osteogenic potential of weight-bearing activities performed by children and adolescents has received increasing attention and accumulating evidence suggests that this type of activity may improve bone health prior to adulthood and help prevent osteoporosis later in life.
Objective: Because previous interventions have varied with respect to the exercise parameters studied and sometimes produced conflicting findings, this meta-analysis was undertaken to evaluate the impact of weight-bearing exercise on the bone health of female children and adolescents and quantify the influence of key moderating variables (e.g. pubertal stage, exercise mode, intervention strategy, exercise duration, frequency of exercise, programme length and study design) on skeletal development in this cohort.
Methods: A comprehensive literature search was conducted using databases such as PubMed, MEDLINE, CINAHL, Web of Science, Physical Education Index, Science Direct and ProQuest. Search terms included 'bone mass', 'bone mineral', 'bone health', 'exercise' and 'physical activity'. Randomized- and non-randomized controlled trials featuring healthy prepubertal, early-pubertal and pubertal girls and measurement of areal bone mineral density (aBMD) or bone mineral content (BMC) using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry were examined. Comprehensive Meta-Analysis software was used to determine weighted mean effect sizes (ES) and conduct moderator analyses for three different regions of interest [i.e. total body, lumbar spine (LS), and femoral neck].
Results: From 17 included studies, 72 ES values were retrieved. Our findings revealed a small, but significant influence of weight-bearing exercise on BMC and aBMD of the LS (overall ES 0.19; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.05, 0.33 and overall ES 0.26, 95% CI 0.09, 0.43, respectively) and BMC of the femoral neck (ES 0.23; 95% CI 0.10, 0.36). For both aBMD and BMC, overall ES was not affected by any moderator variables except frequency of exercise, such that weight-bearing activity performed for more than 3 days per week resulted in a significantly greater ES value for LS aBMD compared with programmes lasting 3 or fewer days per week [Cochran's Q statistic (Qbetween) = 4.09; p < 0.05].
Conclusion: The impact of weight-bearing activities seems to be site specific, and a greater frequency of weight-bearing activities is related to greater aBMD of LS in growing girls. Future investigations are warranted to better understand the dose-response relationship between weight-bearing activity and bone health in girls and explore the mediating role of pubertal status in promoting skeletal development among female youth.