Ultrasound bone measurement in healthy (n = 71) and osteopenic (n = 18) children aged 6 through 13 years of both sexes has been evaluated using the Achilles densitometer (Lunar Corporation). Measurements on the os calcis included speed of sound (SOS), broadband ultrasound attenuation (BUA), and a calculated "stiffness" index. The Achilles was adapted for children by a special positioning procedure that included the use of foot shims, and beam collimation on the receiving transducer. The precision of ultrasound results was comparable to that in adults (0.2% for SOS, 1.5% for BUA, and 1.8% for stiffness). SOS, BUA, and stiffness values increased with age in both sexes. Ultrasound measurements were correlated with bone mineral density (BMD in g/cm2) of the heel, AP spine (L2-L4), and total body by dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) densitometry (Lunar DPX-L). SOS, BUA, and stiffness measurements were significantly lower in osteopenic children (Z approximately -1.9 to -2.5) (P < 0.0001) than in normal age-matched controls. Total body BMD showed a higher Z-score than stiffness (-3.3 versus -2.5), but stiffness showed a greater percentage decrease (-30% versus -18%). In conclusion, ultrasound measurements of bone in children provide both good precision and discrimination of normals from osteopenic patients.