Obesity linked to early puberty in girls
If you’re worried about your little girl’s weight, you may have good reason. It turns out those extra pounds may be causing girls in the U.S. to enter puberty earlier than ever.
According to a new study published this week in the journal Pediatrics, researchers link childhood obesity to early onset puberty in girls, particularly in girls who are white and of non-Hispanic descent. The study, which involved more than 1,200 girls in San Francisco, New York City and Cincinnati, was conducted from 2004 to 2011. Researchers measured the start of puberty in girls beginning with the start of breast development.
Study leaders report that breast development for white, non-Hispanic girls began at an average age of 9.7 years, three to four months earlier than reported by a study conducted in 1997. The difference is even greater than reported in a similar study conducted in the 1960s. African-American girls continue to enter puberty nearly a year earlier than white girls, at an average age of 8.8 years, the study found. The average age for girls of Hispanic descent was 9.3 years and 9.7 years for Asian girls.
Though the researchers are still working on ruling out environmental and ethnical factors, they have concluded that the earlier onset of puberty in white girls is likely caused by the rise in childhood obesity.
“The impact of earlier maturation in girls has important clinical implications involving psychosocial and biologic outcomes,” says Dr. Frank Biro, the study’s lead investigator and a physician in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in a statement. “The current study suggests clinicians may need to redefine the ages for both early and late maturation in girls.”
According to Dr. Kamala Ghaey, pediatrician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, early maturation can cause a host of complications for young girls, no matter their ethnic or geographic background, including lowered self-esteem, depression, hypertension and a greater risk for several cancers—including breast, ovarian and endometrial.
“There’s no question in my mind that there’s a connection between obesity and early puberty may now contribute as a risk factor,” Dr. Ghaey says. “I’ve definitely seen similar changes in my patients that are of extreme, unhealthy weight.”
Dr. Ghaey says parents should be aware early on and encourage a healthy lifestyle with their children, particularly after age six when weight gain naturally increases. Making certain children get at least one hour of physical activity a day, drink 4 servings of water rather than sugary drinks and juices and reduce screen time to less than two hours per day, she says.
“Screen time use of more than two hours can contribute to sedentary behaviors and excessive weight gain,” she adds.
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