Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Determinants of bone density in normal women: risk factors for future osteoporosis?

British Medical Journal 1989; 298 doi: (Published 08 April 1989) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1989;298:924
  1. J. C. Stevenson,
  2. B. Lees,
  3. M. Devenport,
  4. M. P. Cust,
  5. K. F. Ganger
  1. Cavendish Clinic, London.


    Postmenopausal osteoporosis is an important public health problem in developed countries. Preventive treatment might effect a large reduction in the incidence, but this needs to be applied selectively to those women at increased risk. Loss of bone density results in an increased risk of fractures in the classical sites of vertebrae and proximal femur. A cross sectional study of bone density measurements was carried out in these sites in British women with a modern, precise densitometric technique. Possible predictors and risk factors for bone density were assessed in these women. Bone density was measured by dual photon absorptiometry in 284 apparently healthy women volunteers aged 21 to 68. The values obtained were similar to those obtained from equivalent studies performed in women in the United States. Peak adult bone density had been attained soon after the end of linear skeletal growth. Thereafter there was some decline with age in the proximal femur, but the major fall in bone density in all sites was related to the menopause. Other factors decreasing bone density, and hence increasing risk for osteoporosis, such as low body weight, alcohol and cigarette consumption, nulliparity, lack of previous use of oral contraceptives, and lack of regular exercise, seemed to be important. None, however, could predict satisfactorily women at future risk for osteoporosis. Direct measurements of bone density in the clinically relevant sites are necessary to determine which women should received preventive treatment for postmenopausal osteoporosis. This would help make such treatment more cost effective.