Determinants of relative skeletal maturity in South African children

The variation of skeletal maturity about chronological age is a sensitive indicator of population health. Age appropriate or advanced skeletal maturity is a reflection of adequate environmental and social conditions, whereas delayed maturation suggests inadequate conditions for optimal development. There remains a paucity of data, however, to indicate which specific biological and environmental factors are associated with advancement or delay in skeletal maturity. The present study utilises longitudinal data from the South African Birth to Twenty (Bt20) study to indentify predictors of relative skeletal maturity (RSM) in early adolescence. A total of 244 black South African children (n=131 male) were included in this analysis. Skeletal maturity at age 9/10 years was assessed using the Tanner and Whitehouse III RUS technique. Longitudinal data on growth, socio-economic position and pubertal development were entered into sex-specific multivariable general linear regression models with relative skeletal maturity (skeletal age-chronological age) as the outcome. At 9/10 years of age males showed an average of 0.66 years delay in skeletal maturation relative to chronological age. Females showed an average of 1.00 year delay relative to chronological age. In males, being taller at 2 years (p<0.01) and heavier at 2 years (p<0.01) predicted less delay in RSM at age 9/10 years, independent of current size and body composition. In females, both height at 2 years and conditional weight at 2 years predicted less delay in RSM at 9/10 years (p<0.05) but this effect was mediated by current body composition. Having greater lean mass at 9/10 years was associated with less delayed RSM in females (p<0.01) as was pubertal status at the time of skeletal maturity assessment (p<0.01). This study identifies several predictors of skeletal maturation at 9/10 years, indicating a role for early life exposures in determining the rate of skeletal maturation during childhood independently of current stature.