In children, inappropriate eating habits can induce a disease known as nutritional dwarfing (ND). Due to the link between nutritional condition and bone growth, the effects induced by a 20 % reduction of food intake on bone competence were assessed in an animal model of ND. Bone status during catch-up growth was also analysed. Male Wistar rats were divided into control (C) and ND groups. C rats were fed ad libitum. ND received 80 % of the diet consumed by C for 4 weeks (T4); thereafter, they were fed ad libitum for 8 weeks. Results, expressed as mean (sem) for ND v. C, were as follows. At T4, body weight (g) and length (cm) and femur weight (g) and length (mm) were 97·35 (sem 5·89) v. 199·07 (sem 9·24), 16·91 (sem 0·41) v. 20·26 (sem 0·31), 0·30 (sem 0·01) v. 0·46 (sem 0·01) and 23·09 (sem 0·29) v. 26·98 (sem 0·26), respectively (P<0·001); bone mineral content (g) and density (g/cm2) were 0·014 (sem 0·002) v. 0·030 (sem 0·002) and 0·061 (sem 0·004) v. 0·080 (sem 0·003), respectively (P<0·001); load-bearing capacity (N), yielding load (N) and elastic stiffness (N/mm) were 25·06 (sem 1·24) v. 50·34 (sem 2·94), 23·72 (sem 1·02) v. 46·97 (sem 1·75) and 65·98 (sem 4·42) v. 115·07 (sem 3·85), respectively (P<0·001); cross-sectional area (mm2) and moment of inertia (mm4) were 2·86 (sem 0·19) v. 4·54 (sem 0·17) and 1·27 (sem 0·08) v. 3·03 (sem 0·16), respectively (P<0·001). Significant effects were not evident in material properties. Parameters assessed normalized during re-feeding. These results suggest that the impaired mechanical femur competence in ND rats could be due to an altered bone mass and architectural distribution rather than to intrinsic quality. Re-feeding caused a reversal of the effects of food restriction on growth and bone parameters in ND rats.