BACKGROUND: Fracture risk is rising in countries undergoing rapid rural to urban migration, but whether this reflects an adverse effect of urbanization on intrinsic bone strength, as reflected by bone mineral density (BMD), is currently unknown.
METHODS: Lumbar spine (LS) and total hip (TH) BMD, and total body fat and lean mass, were obtained from DXA scans performed in the Hyderabad arm of the Indian Migration Study (54% male, mean age 49 years). Sib-pair comparisons were performed between rural-urban migrants (RUM) and rural non-migrated (RNM) siblings (N = 185 sib-pairs).
RESULTS: In analyses adjusted for height, gender, age and occupation, rural to urban migration was associated with higher lumbar and hip BMD and greater predicted hip strength; ΔLS BMD 0.030 (0.005, 0.055) g/cm2, ΔTH BMD 0.044 (0.024; 0.064) g/cm2, Δcross-sectional moment of inertia 0.162 (0.036, 0.289) cm4. These differences were largely attenuated after adjusting for body composition, insulin levels and current lifestyle factors ie. years of smoking, alcohol consumption and moderate to vigorous physical activity. Further analyses suggested that differences in lean mass, and to a lesser extent fat mass, largely explained the BMD differences which we observed.
CONCLUSIONS: Rural to urban migration as an adult is associated with higher BMD and greater predicted hip strength, reflecting associated alterations in body composition. It remains to be seen how differences in BMD between migration groups will translate into fracture risk in becoming years.