Study: Children from disadvantaged families reach puberty earlier

Does our home environment affect the onset of puberty?
Puberty is certainly a difficult time for many adolescents and their parents. The adolescents are increasingly testing their limits and this often leads to disputes and problems. Researchers have now found that children from disadvantaged households appear to reach puberty earlier. Those affected often also suffer from poorer health later in life.

The researchers at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) found that children from disadvantaged households are more likely to reach puberty early. The doctors published the results of their study in the specialist journal "Pediatrics".

More and more children reach puberty early
When boys grew up in disadvantaged households, they were four times as likely to reach puberty early at ten or eleven years. The experts were still twice as likely to have girls compared to girls from normal households, the experts explain. The factors that can lead to early puberty have been increasingly discussed in recent years because more and more children reach puberty at an earlier age than previous generations did.

What are the signs of early puberty?
The researchers at Murdoch Children's Research Institute examined over 3,700 children for their study. The experts wanted to determine whether social influences play a role in puberty. The parents of the participants were asked to watch for any signs of puberty between the ages of eight and nine and between ten and eleven. These include, for example, a growth spurt, the growth of pubic hair and skin changes. In girls, breast growth also occurs and menstruation begins. In boys, the voice will grow deeper and the first facial hair will grow, the researchers say.

How much does a disadvantaged childhood increase the likelihood of early puberty?
Among the ten and eleven year olds, approximately 19 percent of boys and 21 percent of girls were placed in the group of early puberty. Boys from very disadvantaged households had a 4.2 times higher risk of early puberty. Girls also had an increased risk due to the same factors, which was about twice as high as that of girls from normal households, explains author Ying Sun.

Findings from the study could improve the lives of many children
Our findings suggest that puberty can play a role in linking early social disadvantage to life health problems, the expert adds. If research can improve understanding of this connection, we can potentially create new public health initiatives that can improve the health and well-being of all children for the rest of their lives, the doctors add in a press release.

Evolutionary reasons behind premature puberty in disadvantaged childhood
Early puberty could be related to underprivileged childhood for evolutionary reasons. Given the hardness (e.g. economic disadvantage, harsh physical environment, absence of a father, etc.), the effect observed could lead to children starting the reproductive process earlier. This is likely to ensure that their genes are passed on to the next generation, says author Ying Sun.

Premature birth and obesity can also affect the onset of puberty
We now understand the triggers for the adolescent process much better, the scientists report. Disadvantaged childhood leads to early puberty due to a number of factors (including premature birth and overweight). It is very important to understand exactly the effects of early puberty on the health of children and adolescents, adds author George Patton.

Effects of early puberty
Early maturity can lead to emotional, social and behavioral problems in girls during so-called adolescence (last section of adolescence). These problems include, for example, depressive disorders, substance disorders, eating disorders and early sexuality, explains Professor Patton.

Understanding factors for previous puberty maturation is very important
Early puberty also contributes to risks of developing cancer in the reproductive tract and cardio-metabolic diseases later in life. Given the recent tendency toward early adolescent maturation in many countries, a clearer understanding of factors affecting adolescent timing is very important, the author adds. (as)

Author and source information

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