Sexual dimorphism of the femoral neck during the adolescent growth spurt: A structural analysis

Mark R. Forwood, Donald A. Bailey, Thomas J. Beck, Robert L. Mirwald, Adam D.G. Baxter-Jones, Kirsti Uusi-Rasi

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61 Scopus citations


Before puberty, there are only small sex differences in body shape and composition. During adolescence, sexual dimorphism in bone, lean, and fat mass increases, giving rise to the greater size and strength of the male skeleton. The question remains as to whether there are sex differences in bone strength or simply differences in anthropometric dimensions. To test this, we applied hip structural analysis (HSA) to derive strength and geometric indices of the femoral neck using bone densitometry scans (DXA) from a 6-year longitudinal study in Canadian children. Seventy boys and sixty-eight girls were assessed annually for 6 consecutive years. At the femoral neck, cross-sectional area (CSA, an index of axial strength), subperiosteal width (SPW), and section modulus (Z, an index of bending strength) were determined, and data were analyzed using a hierarchical (random effects) modeling approach. Biological age (BA) was defined as years from age at peak height velocity (PHV). When BA, stature, and total-body lean mass (TB lean) were controlled, boys had significantly higher Z than girls at all maturity levels (P < 0.05). Controlling height and TB lean for CSA demonstrated a significant independent sex by BA interaction effect (P < 0.05). That is, CSA was greater in boys before PHV but higher in girls after PHV. The coefficients contributing the greatest proportion to the prediction of CSA, SPW, and Z were height and lean mass. Because the significant sex difference in Z was relatively small and close to the error of measurement, we questioned its biological significance. The sex difference in bending strength was therefore explained by anthropometric differences. In contrast to recent hypotheses, we conclude that the CSA-lean ratio does not imply altered mechanosensitivity in girls because bending dominates loading at the neck, and the Z -lean ratio remained similar between the sexes throughout adolescence. That is, despite the greater CSA in girls, the bone is strategically placed to resist bending; hence, the bones of girls and boys adapt to mechanical challenges in a similar way.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)973-981
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2004


  • Bone development
  • Bone strength
  • Hip structural geometry
  • Longitudinal studies
  • Radiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Physiology
  • Histology


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