Impact of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and muscle strength on bone stiffness in 2–10-year-old children-cross-sectional results from the IDEFICS study

Physical activity (PA), weight-bearing exercises (WBE) and muscle strength contribute to skeletal development, while sedentary behaviour (SB) adversely affects bone health. Previous studies examined the isolated effect of PA, SB or muscle strength on bone health, which was usually assessed by x-ray methods, in children. Little is known about the combined effects of these factors on bone stiffness (SI) assessed by quantitative ultrasound. We investigated the joint association of PA, SB and muscle strength on SI in children.
In 1512 preschool (2- < 6 years) and 2953 school children (6–10 years), data on calcaneal SI as well as on accelerometer-based sedentary time (SED), light (LPA), moderate (MPA) and vigorous PA (VPA) were available. Parents reported sports (WBE versus no WBE), leisure time PA and screen time of their children. Jumping distance and handgrip strength served as indicators for muscle strength. The association of PA, SB and muscle strength with SI was estimated by multivariate linear regression, stratified by age group. Models were adjusted for age, sex, country, fat-free mass, daylight duration, consumption of dairy products and PA, or respectively SB.
Mean SI was similar in preschool (79.5 ± 15.0) and school children (81.3 ± 12.1). In both age groups, an additional 10 min/day in MPA or VPA increased the SI on average by 1 or 2 %, respectively (p ≤ .05). The negative association of SED with SI decreased after controlling for MVPA. LPA was not associated with SI. Furthermore, participation in WBE led to a 3 and 2 % higher SI in preschool (p = 0.003) and school children (p < .001), respectively. Although muscle strength significantly contributed to SI, it did not affect the associations of PA with SI. In contrast to objectively assessed PA, reported leisure time PA and screen time showed no remarkable association with SI.
This study suggests that already an additional 10 min/day of MPA or VPA or the participation in WBE may result in a relevant increase in SI in children, taking muscle strength and SB into account. Our results support the importance of assessing accelerometer-based PA in large-scale studies. This may be important when deriving dose–response relationships between PA and bone health in children.

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