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Have the Growth Rates of Children’s Bones Changed?

A recent article published in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research examined the growth trends of children’s bones.

Monitoring bone growth is important for children with developmental and skeletal disorders, such as constitutional growth delay and scoliosis. Healthcare professionals can assess when bones stop growing longitudinally, an event termed epiphyseal fusion, to better understand developmental conditions.

Although the timing of fusion typically occurs in the early teenage years, professionals have noticed children are maturing overall at much earlier ages, which affects when treatments for skeletal and other developmental conditions can be administered. In a recently published article, researchers analyzed data from the largest longitudinal study on growth and development to determine the trends in the growth of children’s bones.

Researchers used data from the Fels Longitudinal Study based in Ohio, USA, which included information on the development of individuals from 1915-2006. For this study, they only included data on children who had radiographs showing initiation and completion of epiphyseal fusion in the hand and wrist. In total, 627 girls and 665 boys were included in the study and over 90% of them were White. They published their results in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research.

Children’s bones are reaching maturity much earlier than in the past

In general, researchers found epiphyseal fusion is occurring earlier than in the past. Compared to children born in 1935, epiphyseal fusion in boys and girls born in 1995 started 6.7 and 9.8 months earlier, respectively. Between boys and girls, there were also differences in which bones were fusing faster.  For example, in girls born in 1995, the distal radius, and 3 metacarpals fused earlier than children born in 1935, whereas in boys, only some parts of the radius and 3 metacarpals fused faster than children born in 1935. Completion of epiphyseal fusion was also accelerated with fusion completing 6.8 months earlier in boys and 9.7 months earlier in girls.

Study provides new information to better assess skeletal growth conditions

Researchers were able to find that children’s bones are maturing at a faster rate, however, exact reasons as to why this is occurring are unknown. Due to the location of the Fels Longitudinal Study, the majority of participants were Caucasian, and therefore these results are not necessarily representative of bone maturity rates across the United States. Healthcare providers must be aware of this bone growth trend to better assess skeletal growth conditions and know when the optimal time is to provide treatments.

Written by Monica Naatey-Ahumah, BSc

Reference: Boeyer, M.E., Sherwood, R.J., Deroche, C.B., & Duren, D.L. (2018). Early Maturity as the New Normal: A Century-long Study of Bone Age. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, 476, 2112-2122.



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