Girls’ Puberty and Overweight
The rise of overweight and obesity in children is a growing concern for many moms. While it is a well-known fact that overweight children are at a greater risk for a variety of health problems, including respiratory and health problems, recent studies have indicated a new concern linked to being overweight: early puberty in girls. But why are overweight girls reaching puberty at an earlier stage and what kinds of risks are associated with early puberty development in girls?
Early Puberty in Overweight Girls
A new study has found that the rising rate of childhood obesity in American children is the reason behind why the rate of early puberty development in girls has increased. Obesity levels in the United States have doubled since the 1970s.
The American study found that increased levels of body fatness were identified as early as girls at the preschool age. It is this increased level of body mass index (BMI) that is believed to be linked to earlier puberty development.
The study assessed the development of over 350 girls ranging in age from 3 to 12. It found that girls started entering the stages of puberty earlier when they had higher BMI levels at the age of 3. An increased rate of change in BMI levels between the ages of three and the first grade also contributed to the early onset of puberty development.
In addition, the chance of entering early puberty increased by 44% for each 1-point increase in BMI score at the age of 3.
Certain girls were also found to be at greater risk for early puberty development; girls whose mothers experienced puberty at an early age as well as non-white girls and in particular African-American girls were at greater risk.
A recent study conducted by Boston’s Tufts University also found that the average at which American girls start menstruating had fallen by 2.3 months from between the late 1980s and 2002. Similar findings have also been reached with regard to breast development and the development of pubic hair.
However, critics of the findings believe that the perceived trend linking overweight and obesity to early puberty development in girls is due in fact to the use of more sophisticated tools for estimating the onset of puberty.
Further research needs to be conducted as to why the two are related and if maintaining a healthier weight can reduce the chance of early puberty.
Effects of Early Puberty on Girls’ Health
In addition, the above American study found that early puberty in girls was linked to other health problems, including the following:
- mental health problems
- behavioral problems
- social problems
- earlier sexual intercourse (including teen pregnancy)
- earlier alcohol use
- increased risk of obesity
- increased risk of reproductive cancers
Help keep your daughter healthy by following these guidelines:
- encourage daily physical activity. This can include moderate exercise such as walking to school or cycling at the local park.
- restrict TV and computer time to no more than 2 hours a day
- serve healthy, well-balanced meals and try to eat together as a family as much as possible. Limit the consumption of fast foods and buy healthy after-school snacks
- don’t use food as a reward. Also, don’t force your kids to clean their plates. Respect when your child is full, as this will help reinforce the connection between eating and hunger, thereby reducing the risk of emotional eating habits