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Heavy episodic drinking linked to decreased bone density among college women

A new study investigated the association between heavy episodic drinking (HED; also known as ‘binge drinking’) and bone mineral density (BMD) among a sample of female college students. Low BMD is a key characteristic of osteoporosis; peak BMD is typically attained when a woman is between 20 and 25 years old, after which BMD declines throughout the remainder of her life. Study participants (n = 87) were female undergraduates aged 18 to 20 years old at one U.S. institution. The sample was 60% (n = 52) White and the mean age was 18.64 years (SD = 0.62). Participants completed baseline survey assessments on which they reported their ages at menarche, hormonal contraceptive use, physical activity, smoking habits, and HED histories during high school and the first two years of college. Based on participants’ HED histories, the authors coded participants who initiated HED at age 15 or younger as early initiators and those who first engaged in HED at age 16 or older as late initiators. Similarly, the authors defined frequent HED as 115 or more total reported episodes, compared to less frequent HED (114 episodes or fewer). After completing the baseline surveys, participants then underwent bone density scans and lean body mass calculations at on-campus facilities. The authors examined bivariate relationships among the two types of BMD projections obtained from the bone scans and known correlates of BMD using correlational analyses. Results of these analyses indicated lean body mass was the strongest positive correlate of both BMD measures. Early HED initiation and frequent HED were found to be only moderately correlated with each other. Next, the authors used hierarchical regression models to examine potential relationships between HED variables and both types of BMD, controlling for other associated predictors. Results of these steps again indicated lean body mass was the strongest positive predictor of BMD. More frequent HED during adolescence and young adulthood was negatively associated with one type of BMD projection (β = – 0.22, p = 0.03), while early HED initiation did not significantly predict either type of BMD projection (β = 0.12, p = 0.21 and β = 0.03, p = 0.31). A major limitation of this study was its reliance on retrospective self-report of HED behaviors.

 Take away: Results of this study indicated frequent heavy episodic drinking (HED) during high school and college was associated with lower bone mineral density among female college students. The age at which participants reported first engaging in HED was not significantly related to BMD projections.

LaBrie, J.W., Boyle, S., Earle, A. & Almstedt, H.C. (2018). Heavy episodic drinking is associated with poorer bone health in adolescent and young adult women. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 79(3), 391-398 doi: 10.15288/jsad.2018.79.391

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