Are Hispanic girls hitting puberty earlier as a result of childhood obesity?

saludifyBy Hope Gillette, Saludify

Hispanic girls are hitting puberty at an average age of 9.3 years, a younger time frame compared to non-Hispanic white girls and girls of Asian descent, according to data published in the journal Pediatrics.

Only African American girls were found in  the research to have an earlier puberty onset–at approximately 8.8 years. The early maturation of participants in the study was directly linked to childhood obesity.

The data corresponds to national childhood obesity numbers which indicate Hispanic children are more likely than non-Hispanic white children to be overweight or obese; for example, the Office on Minority Health indicates Mexican American children alone are 1.6 times more likely to be overweight compared to non-Hispanic white children.  Approximately 39 percent of Hispanic children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese compared to 32 percent of all U.S. children, according to The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and childhood obesity has more than doubled in the last 30 years.

Now, that health disparity further complicates the health of Hispanics by lowering the age where Hispanic girls are hitting puberty.

“The impact of earlier maturation in girls has important clinical implications involving psychosocial and biologic outcomes,” said Dr. Frank Biro, author of the new study and a physician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “The current study suggests clinicians may need to redefine the ages for both early and late maturation in girls.”

Health consequences of early puberty

Girls who hit puberty early and mature physically faster than other girls are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, depression, disruptive behavior, and low academic performance, according to a report from redOrbit, and the early onset of puberty has also been linked to greater risks of obesity, cardiovascular problems and several types of cancer.

“The girls who are obese are clearly maturing earlier,” Biro told NBC News. “BMI is, we found, the biggest single factor for the onset of puberty.”

Researchers indicated excess weight on a child’s body likely tricks the brain into thinking there is enough of an energy supply available to begin the maturation process; however, obesity alone is not a reliable indicator of when a child will go through puberty.  Biro indicated a host of factors may contribute to early puberty, and parents should be cautioned against placing children on strict diets in an effort to delay the process.

“Parents of these early maturing kids have to be more watchful,” he said. “But I don’t want to have a nation of patients with eating disorders. We need to figure out what are healthy weights for our kids. We want them to be comfortable with their bodies.”

This article was originally published in Saludify.

[Photo by shaggyhill]


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