Researchers at Southampton University are investigating whether the seeds of osteoporosis are sown in early life.
The Wellcome Trust has awarded more than Pounds 40,000 to the Medical Research Council's environmental epidemiology unit, which has already shown that growth in infancy is a determining factor in how strong the spine and hip bones are in young women, and that this effect is still detectable much later in life.
Osteoporosis, a reduction in bone density, is a major health problem through its link with fractures of the hip and spine, and bone density in later life depends both on the peak achieved while the young person is growing and on the subsequent rate of bone loss.
Consultant rheumatologist Cyrus Cooper is heading the study of 400 men and women born between 1920 and 1930 who still have medical records giving their weight at birth and at one year, and their feeding pattern as infants. Three years ago, the team evaluated their bone density, and will now reassess them to calculate their bone loss.
Preliminary research suggests that factors such as poor nutrition or the mother's smoking might be linked with growth-hormone resistance, which might lead to a greater rate of bone loss in later adulthood.