Earlier Onset of Puberty in U.S. Girls is Linked with Obesity: Study Claims

First Posted: Nov 04, 2013 04:25 AM EST

A latest multi-institutional study links earlier onset of puberty in girls to obesity.  This latest finding adds to the growing body of research documenting the earlier onset of puberty in girls of all races.

The study, conducted from the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Program, states that girls with earlier maturation are at a greater risk of obesity, hypertension and several cancers that include ovarian, breast and endometrial cancer. Studies have also shown that girls with early maturation suffer high risk of several health challenges such as lower academic achievement, behavior issue, greater risk of depression and lower self esteem.

"The impact of earlier maturation in girls has important clinical implications involving psychosocial and biologic outcomes," Frank Biro, MD, lead investigator and a physician in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said in a statement. "The current study suggests clinicians may need to redefine the ages for both early and late maturation in girls."

For this study, nearly 1,239 girls' medical history was examined by a team of researchers at various centers in San Francisco Bay Area, Cincinnati and New York City. The researchers examined the age of girls at the onset of breast development, and they also examined the impact of BMI including race/ethnicity.  The age of the study participants at the time of enrollment ranged from 6-8 years and were followed at regular intervals from 2004-2011.

To proceed with the finding the researchers used the criteria of pubertal maturation as well as the Tanner Breast Stages.

On examining the subjects the researchers noticed that the breast development varied by race, BMI (obesity) as well as the geographic location. In white, non-Hispanic girls the breast development started at a median age of 9.7 years. Whereas in the black girls continue to experience breast development earlier than the white girls at a median age of 8.8 years. For Hispanic girls in the study the median age was 9.3 years and for the Asian girls it was 9.7 years.

When compared to race and ethnicity the stronger predictor for puberty was BMI. Based on this, the researchers conclude that the early onset of puberty in white girls might be due to obesity.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

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