Differences in bone mineral in young Asian and Caucasian Americans may reflect differences in bone size

J Bone Miner Res. 1996 Oct;11(10):1545-56. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.5650111023.


Bone mineral content (BMC) and areal bone mineral density (BMD) have been reported to be lower in Asian than in Caucasian adults. To determine if racial differences in bone mass are present in younger subjects and whether they reflect differences in estimated volumetric bone density or in bone size, we compared measurements of bone mineral in healthy young Asian- and Caucasian-American males and females. Bone mineral was measured at the lumbar spine (L2-L4), femoral neck (FN), and whole body (WB) by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) in 99 Asians (49 females, 50 males) and 103 Caucasians (54 females, 49 males) ages 9-26 years. Results were expressed as BMC, BMD, and apparent density (BMAD), an estimate of volumetric bone density that reduces the effect of bone size. Subjects were compared on the basis of chronological age as well as by Tanner stage to correct for potential differences in the timing of puberty. Habitual dietary intake and physical activity were also assessed and correlated with bone mineral. The Asian and Caucasian cohorts differed in body size, diet, and physical activity. Asian females were shorter than the Caucasian females at all stages of puberty and weighed less at pre-/early puberty (p < 0.05). Asian males were older than Caucasians at midpuberty (p < 0.01) and weighed less than the Caucasian males at pubertal maturity (p = 0.001). Asian youths also consumed less calcium and reported less weight-bearing activity. Racial differences were most apparent when comparing BMC data. Asian males had greater spine BMC at midpuberty and lower WB BMC at maturity (p < 0.05). Asian females had lower FN BMC through midpuberty and lower WB BMC in pre-/early puberty (p < 0.05). WB BMD and WB BMC/height values were significantly lower in mature Asian versus Caucasian males. No significant racial differences in BMAD were observed. Multivariate regression analysis indicated that the differences in BMD and BMAD between Asian and Caucasian subjects were largely attributable to differences in weight and pubertal stage, and, at the FN, in weight-bearing activity. Further, the explanatory variables were less strongly associated with BMAD than with BMD. In summary, no significant differences in BMD were found between Asian and Caucasian youths through midpuberty; however, WB BMD and WB BMC/height values were lower in Asian males at sexual maturity. We conclude that observed differences in bone mineral between Asians and Caucasians may be partially attributed to the smaller bone size of Asians.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging
  • Asian Americans
  • Asians
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Bone Density / physiology*
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Femur Neck / diagnostic imaging
  • Femur Neck / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiology*
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Whites