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Puberty Is Starting Earlier in the 21st Century

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When Puberty is Precocious

Part of the book series: Contemporary Endocrinology ((COE))

Abstract

Determining trend directions in ages of pubertal charateristics with certainty in U. S. studies is not possible because studies using similar methods and measurement techniques do not exit, with the exception of the menarcheal data from the government surveys. Taking the methodological differences into account, the data for girls since the 1940s support a continued decline, through less steep than that during the later 1800 s and early 1900s as based on menarcheal data. Modern girls appear to start development 5 months to a year earlier than those of 30 to 50 years ago with a longer tempo from onset to menses. The data from NHES and NHANES on menarche are exactly comparable and show a statistically significant drop of over a month per decade in the last 30 years to 12.34 years of age for white girls and 12.06 for black girls. Fewer studies exist for boys and the data are only cautiously suggestive of lessening trend. Testicular measurement has not been used in U. S. studies. Data since the 1940s show a very slight downward trend in onset of public hair growth for white boys. The most recent NHANES data on genitial growth would indicate a younger age as compared with several decades ago (onset of G2 now 10.1 and 9.5 years of age for white and black boys respectively from the 1988–1992 data set) however; the reliability of the assessments has been questioned. The American Academy of Pediatrics Pediatric Research in Office Settings study in the field since 2006 will provide much needed data.

Supporting evidence for earlier puberty in both boys and girls includes limited growth and dental studies showing earlier achievement of final height and mature dentition as well as the obesity epidemic, a condition likely associated with an earlier onset of puberty, at least in girls. Changes in ages of onset of pubertal characteristics have profound public health and medical care implications. Just as rising ages may indicate lack of adequate nutrition or other harmful social or environmental conditions, lowering ages may reflect different kinds of harmful conditions such as overweight or certain environmental contaminants. Reliable trend data are needed for the care of our children and for appropriate public health interventions.

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Herman-Giddens, M.E. (2007). Puberty Is Starting Earlier in the 21st Century. In: Pescovitz, O.H., Walvoord, E.C. (eds) When Puberty is Precocious. Contemporary Endocrinology. Humana Press. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-59745-499-5_5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-59745-499-5_5

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