Low muscle mass and strength in pediatrics patients: Why should we care?

Clin Nutr. 2019 Oct;38(5):2002-2015. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2019.04.012. Epub 2019 Apr 18.


Skeletal muscle plays major roles in metabolism and overall health across the lifecycle. Emerging evidence indicates that prenatal (maternal diet during pregnancy and genetic defects) and postnatal factors (physical activity, hormones, dietary protein, and obesity) influence muscle mass acquisition and strength early in life. As a consequence, low muscle mass and strength contributes to several adverse health outcomes during childhood. Specifically, studies demonstrated inverse associations of muscle mass and strength to single and clustered metabolic risk factors. The literature also consistently reports that low muscle mass and strength are associated with reduced bone parameters during growth, increasing the risk of osteoporosis in old age. Furthermore, muscle mass gains are associated with improved neurodevelopment in the first years of life. Given these negative implications of low muscle mass and strength on health, it is crucial to track muscle mass and strength development from childhood to adolescence. Several body composition techniques are currently available for estimation of muscle mass, all with unique advantages and disadvantages. The value of ultrasound as a technique to measure muscle mass is emerging in pediatric research with potential for translating the research findings to clinical settings. For the assessment of muscle strength, the handgrip strength test has been widely employed but without a standardized protocol. Although further research is needed to define normative data and cut points for the low muscle mass and strength phenotype, the use of such non-invasive medical monitoring is a promising strategy to identify early abnormalities and prevent low muscle mass in adulthood.

Keywords: Children; Muscle; Sarcopenia; Strength.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal* / growth & development
  • Muscle, Skeletal* / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal* / physiopathology
  • Pediatric Obesity
  • Sarcopenia*

Grant support