In 1997 there was a controversial study that found that children, mostly girls, were entering puberty earlier than past generations. At the time, it was a topic that was intensely debated. This was especially the case when child-sized sanitary pads began to be marketed and when new research found risk factors relating to precocious puberty. So we were not surprised to read that a recent study in the journal Paediatrics found that this trend remained a decade later. However, we were surprised to read about the relationship it appeared to have with obesity. More information on the study can be read here.
The US study included a total of 1200 American girls with various ethnicities. Their findings indicated that the development of breasts varied depending on the participants’ ethnicity and weight. Specifically, white girls start to develop breasts when they are about nine and a half, whereas African American girls start to develop breasts before they become nine years old. Hispanic girls appear to develop breasts when they are about 9 years and four months old. But perhaps the most important finding was that girls with a higher BMI were more prone to develop breasts at a younger age. Based on this, the researchers stated that there is a need to consider the factors that would cause these earlier developments. In addition to that, the researchers stated that they plan to undertake a study when they measure the onset of young girls’ menstruation in the hopes of corroborating these findings.
There has been a range of theories to explain why some girls develop breasts earlier than others. One of the theories that has come out of this (and similar studies) is the belief that the added weight may trigger earlier development as a result of the body thinking it has sufficient resources to start the puberty. Other theories have suggested that a child’s diet may affect their pituitary gland, which in turn would speed up the onset of puberty. Further alternative explanations have suggested that environmental toxins such as bisphenol A and dicholobenzene can impact on hormonal functioning and induce early development.
An early start of puberty has been linked to various risk factors among girls that range from depression to early sexual activity. Although boys tend to be at a lower risk for early puberty, some studies have suggested that they are at an increased risk for bullying. Because of the gravity of these risk factors it is understandable that this area of children’s health has received so much research.
Whilst the current study had some interesting findings, it can hardly be said that it found a definite link between childhood obesity and precocious puberty. Instead, its value lies in keeping the field topical and inspiring further in-depth research to corroborate or refute these findings.
We recommend this website for parents concerned about this issue – http://www.parenting.com/article/the-link-between-childhood-obesity-and-early-puberty