1. We analysed the lumbar spine (L2-L4) and femoral neck bone mineral density results of Caucasian (n = 2232), Asian (Indian sub-continent) (n = 153) and Afro-Caribbean (n = 102) women referred for bone densitometry over a 30 month period. To assess the risk of osteoporosis, the results of Caucasian and Asian women were compared with those of a reference Caucasian population supplied by Lunar.

2. Subject characteristics were similar in all three groups, other than expected ethnic differences in stature and weight. We found that lumbar spine and femoral neck bone mineral density in Caucasians was lower than in Afro-Caribbeans, but higher than in Asians. Consistent with this, bone mineral density was also lower in Asians as compared with the reference Caucasian population, both at the lumbar spine and femoral neck. As a consequence, a higher proportion of Asian women were classified as being at increased risk of osteoporosis than Caucasian women.

3. Since ethnic differences in skeletal size might influence bone mineral density, we also obtained values for bone mineral content in Caucasian and Asian women that were corrected for projected skeletal area, and weight and years since menopause, using regression equations derived from the Caucasian study population. After this analysis, the difference in bone mineral content between Caucasians and Asians at the lumbar spine disappeared, while that at the femoral neck persisted.

4. We conclude that the assessment of risk of osteoporosis in Asian women by comparing bone mineral density with a reference Caucasian population may have limited validity because of the influence of skeletal size on such measurements.

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