Girls hitting puberty earlier as obesity rises: study

Mon Aug 9, 2010 8:39pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Girls in the United States are hitting puberty at an earlier age with overweight youngsters tending to develop earlier, according to a U.S. study.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center researchers compared 1,200 girls aged 7 and 8 in Cincinnati, New York and San Francisco with a similar 1997 study using a standard measure of breast development to determine which girls had started puberty.

They found at age 7, about 10 percent of white girls and 23 percent of black girls had started developing breasts which compared to 5 percent of white girls and 15 percent of black girls in 1997. This was consistent with earlier studies that found large differences in development based on race.

Among 8-year-olds in the study, 18 percent of white girls and 43 percent of black girls had entered puberty - an increase from around 11 percent of white girls from 1997 but the percentage of black girls was unchanged.

Researcher Frank Biro said rising rates of obesity could be a major reason why girls seem to be developing faster.

His team found that girls with a higher body mass index (BMI) -- a ratio of weight and height -- at age 7 and 8 were more likely to be developed than their thinner peers.

But he said doctors are worried about both the psychological and physical health of girls who hit puberty at a young age.

Studies have shown that girls who develop early are more at risk for depression and often start having sex earlier than girls who develop later.

"For the 11-year old that looks like she's 15 or 16, adults are going to interact with her like she's 15 or 16, but so are her peers," Biro told Reuters Health.   Continued...