Fast food linked to poorer bone development in early years

14 Oct

Living in a neighborhood where there is greater access to fast food outlets may affect bone

development in early childhood, according to the first study to investigate links between neighborhood food

environment and bone mass in the first 6 years of life.

boy eating burger
The researchers say exposure of mothers and children to more healthy food

environments might optimize childhood bone development.

Reporting their findings in the journal Osteoporosis International, researchers from the

University of Southampton in the UK also conclude:

“If confirmed in future studies, action to reduce access to fast-food outlets could have benefits

for childhood development and long-term bone health.”

The team also found that having more healthy specialty stores in the neighborhood is linked to higher bone

mass in young children.

For their study, the researchers used data on 1,107 children that was collected in the Southampton Women’s Survey, a research project

that aims to learn about the dietary and lifestyle factors that influence the health of women and their


They compared the bone mineral density and bone mineral content of children at birth, and then at age

4 or 6, to the number of supermarkets, healthy specialty stores and fast food outlets in their


‘Improving food environment could benefit bone development’

The analysis showed that a higher number of fast food outlets in the neighborhood was tied to lower bone

mineral density and bone mineral content in newborns. However, this link was not significant at age 4 and


In contrast, the researchers note that having more healthy specialty stores in the neighborhood – such as

greengrocers selling fresh fruit and vegetables – was tied to higher bone mineral density at age 4 and 6.

Coauthor Cyrus Cooper, professor of rheumatology and director of the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology

Unit at Southampton, where the study took place, says:

“These findings suggest that the exposure of mothers and children to more healthy food

environments might optimize childhood bone development through its influence on the quality of the maternal

diet and dietary choices during childhood.”

He explains if the findings are confirmed with more extensive research, then they would suggest that improving

the food environment could benefit children’s bone development.

Initiatives to improve the food environment have already begun in some parts of the UK, where local

planning regulations do not allow fast food outlets within 400 meters of schools.

October 20th is World Osteoporosis Day, whose message this year is “serve up bone strength,” to emphasize

the role that a healthy diet plays in bone health.

Research shows that a balanced diet containing adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, protein,

calcium and vitamin D helps develop healthy bones throughout life.

According to a 2014 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics,

attaining substantial bone mass in early life is thought to be the “most important modifiable determinant of

lifelong skeletal health.”

Earlier this year, Medical News Today also learned of a study published in Nature

Communications that found early antibiotic use may affect child

development by promoting weight gain, increased bone growth and altered gut bacteria.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD

Copyright: Medical News Today

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