Poor Home, Early Puberty, Poor Health

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  Last updated June 1, 2017 at 10:12 am

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Children are entering puberty earlier and earlier, new research suggests it may be linked to growing up in poorer homes. 


Australian boys growing up in poorer homes are four times more likely to start puberty early while girls are at double the risk. These early developers will also have more health problems later in life.


New research from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Melbourne was published today in the journal Pediatrics. The researchers surveyed around 3700 children who were recruited at birth as part of the Growing Up in Australia study.


Parents were asked to report on signs of puberty in their children at ages eight to nine and 10 to 11 years. These signs included growth spurts, appearance of pubic hair and skin changes as well as breast growth and menstruation in girls, and voice deepening and facial hair in boys.


The researchers then compared the family’s socioeconomic position against when puberty was observed to start.


At 10 or 11 years of age, about 19 per cent of boys and 21 per cent of girls were classified in the early puberty group. Boys from very disadvantaged homes had 4.2 times the risk of developing early and girls in similar households had twice the risk of early puberty.


The researchers think that the link between early puberty and disadvantaged background may be evolutionary. Economic disadvantaged households tend to be more harsh physical environments and the father is more likely to be absent. These environmental clues may trigger the reproductive process earlier in these children to ensure their genes are passed on to the next generation.


Early maturation in girls has already been linked to emotional, behavioural and social problems during adolescence including depressive disorders, substance disorders, eating disorders and precocious sexuality. Early puberty also carries risks for reproductive tract cancers and cardio-metabolic diseases in later life.



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About the Author

Paul Willis
Paul is a respected leader in the science community with an impressive career in science. He has a background in vertebrate palaeontology, studying the fossils of crocodiles and other reptiles. He also has a long history as a science communicator, with a career spanning as Director of The Royal Institution of Australia, presenter and host for Australia’s Science Channel, working for the ABC on TV programs such as Catalyst and Quantum as well as radio and online. He’s written books and articles on dinosaurs, fossils and rocks and is finding new ways to engage the people of Australia with the science that underpins their world. Follow him on Twitter @fossilcrox.

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The Royal Institution of Australia is an independent charity, and the sister organisation of the prestigious Royal Institution of Great Britain, tasked with promoting public awareness and understanding of science.


The Royal Institution of Australia is passionate about building and connecting communities engaged with science, and as such works closely with scientific organisations, institutions, universities from Australia, and leaders to inspire the next generation of innovators and to create a lasting legacy for Australia.


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