Researchers have confirmed that the number one reason for girls reaching puberty earlier is obesity. That’s a significant problem, since according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
In 1980, seven percent of children ages six to 11 were considered obese; in 2010, 18 percent of children are considered obese.
There are many health problems associated with childhood obesity, and for girls who are obese, early puberty may cause its own health problems.
Obesity Affects Young Girls: New Study Confirms
In the new study published in Pediatrics, researchers tracked 1,200 girls over seven years. The researchers found that girls who had a higher Body Mass Index (BMI – the ratio if height and weight) developed breasts almost a year earlier than those who were thinner.
Researchers also found that on average, girls who had BMI’s below the 50th percentile started developing breasts at the age of ten, while girls who had BMI’s in the 85th and higher percentiles developed breasts as early as 8.5 years old. In this study, researchers only tracked breast development and not menstruation. However, researchers are quick to point out that it’s just not obesity that is triggering earlier onset of puberty; they note that chemicals in our food and water supply and inactivity also play a role in earlier development. The onset of puberty is starting earlier, about two years earlier than previous decades, reports NBC News, and comes with its own set of health problems.
Health Implications of Early Puberty
Starting puberty early can bring on lower self-esteem, depression, and early sexual activity, according to many sources, including NBC, but could there be other health implications?
Could when you go through puberty determine your height? In one study published in August 2013 in the World Journal of Pediatrics, researchers found that in girls who had an earlier age of menstruation, breast development, and growth spurt were related to a shorter height. Researchers also found that in boys, an earlier growth spurt and a slower progression through puberty resulted in a taller height at the age of 18. According to researchers, height is an important predictor of lung function and the timing of puberty on respiratory health should be monitored in those with early onset of puberty.
Another implication of going through puberty sooner is the increased risk of developing breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, girls who begin menstruating before the age of 12 have a slight increase risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
There are other health implications such as accelerated skeletal maturation, shorter adult height, earlier sexual debut, potential sexual abuse, and psychosocial difficulties, reports an article published in the journal of Pediatrics. The article entitled, Public Health Implications of Altered Puberty Timing reports that girls and possibly boys who enter puberty sooner are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the possibility of reproductive cancers later in life, and cardiovascular diseases.
Childhood Obesity: Unhealthy All Around
Childhood obesity has many health implications, one of them being early onset of puberty. Girls who enter puberty early are at a greater risk for health issues as well as psychological and psychosocial issues. Researchers caution parents to be careful when dealing with a child who is overweight or obese, as eating disorders can also stem from dieting at a young age.
American Cancer Society. What are the risk factors for breast cancer? (2013). Accessed November 5, 2013.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood Obesity Facts. (2013). Accessed November 5, 2013.
Golub, M., Collman, G., Foster, P., et al. Public Health Implications of Altered Puberty Timing. (2008). Pediatrics. Accessed November 5, 2013.
NBC News. Obesity linked to early puberty in girls, study finds. (2013). Accessed November 5, 2013.
Yousefi, M., Karmaus,W., Zhang, H., et al. Relationships between age of puberty onset and height at age 18 years in girls and boys. World Journal of Pediatrics. (2013). Accessed November 5, 2013.