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In a cooperative study with the U of S department of medical imaging, researchers are examining the effects of physical activity on bone density and skeletal integrity in growing children, elite athletes and the elderly.
But the two Saskatchewan growth studies actually
followed children year after year over long periods of
time. According to Tim Lohman, a researcher at the
University of Arizona and one of the world’s experts
on childhood body composition, they remain the best
dataset in the world.
“They are ahead of their time. The research is very
unique,” says Lohman. Referring to recent work
by Baxter-Jones, he adds, “This study is the first
that actually demonstrates these results not in the
laboratory but in the
Baxter-Jones, who took over these studies following
Bailey’s retirement in 2001, has illustrated that
inactivity impacts more than just a person’s bone mass
later in adulthood.
Physical activity in childhood also lays the structural
groundwork for strong muscles, tendons and ligaments
later in life. What’s more, it can impact oxygen uptake
and anaerobic capacity.
But it all works together: the amount of muscle
mass also affects a child’s bone mass. Exercise causes
build-up of the muscle and squeezes the adjacent bone,
boosting bone density.
The researchers have also shown that active kids
reduce their level of body fat as adults. However, this
isn’t happening in the 26 per cent of Canadian children
aged 2 to 17 who are considered overweight or obese,
leading to concerns of an osteoporosis epidemic in
Given how deeply these studies reach into the past,
Baxter-Jones decided to continue this testing into the
subjects’ adult years. The subjects of the first growth
study are now in their 50s, and those from the bone
study in their 30s.
On receiving a CIHR operating grant for this stage
of work, Baxter-Jones has found that ex-subjects from
as far away as Ottawa and New Zealand were willing
to participate. He hopes to keep bringing subjects back
every five to ten years.
“The people of Saskatchewan are very special,”
Baxter-Jones says. “They’re so willing to give their
time, without any reward. People obviously want to
While attempting to recruit these subjects, Baxter-
Jones telephoned a man who had run on treadmills
and other activities for the 1960s study. He welcomed
the opportunity to be retested as an adult.
The man told Baxter-Jones the study had changed his
attitude towards exercise—and, that as a result, he has
been physically active ever since.
Baxter-Jones, who took over these studies following Bailey's retirement in 2001, has illustrated that inactivity impacts more than just a person's bone mass later in adulthood.