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In a study that is widely cited by other researchers,
Bailey has shown that physically active kids build up
stronger, denser bones than inactive kids. Recently,
Baxter-Jones extended this
research to illustrate that
active pre-teens and early
teens had much greater bone
mass when they reached the
age of 25 to 27.
Children have a window of
opportunity for establishing
bone mass for later life – a
process Baxter-Jones calls “banking bone.”
“The more bone you can lay down in that period
of time, the more bone you’ve banked,” he says.
“In theory, this way you should reduce the risk of
osteoporosis later in life.”
Banking bone is crucial because osteoporosis
sufferers lose bone density and endure more bone
fractures. According to Bailey, adolescents bank as
much bone during their four-year growth spurt as
women lose during their post-menopausal years.
What makes these findings so unique is the
rarity of the studies that yielded them. Bailey’s first growth project, the Saskatchewan Child Growth and
Development Study, which ran from 1963 to 1973, was
the first long-term investigation of growth and fitness
in school children.
“All the work on osteoporosis was looking at older
people, since they’re the people who have the disease,”
says Bailey. “But no one looked at the bone-mineral
deposition in childhood growth.”
Recent studies examining children only compared
the physical development of an active child with
an inactive one of the same age. The children were
followed for only a year or two, mainly because longterm
studies are expensive and time-consuming.