A new study investigates the role of early life influences on pubertal development.

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Researchers at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute conducted countrywide research exploring the impact of early life influences in developing pubertal characteristics. "Analysis of Early-Life Growth and Age at Pubertal Onset in US Children" was published in JAMA Network Open on February 4th.

The onset of puberty is an important developmental milestone for children. Evidence suggests that an early pubertal start may raise a person's chance of developing long-term chronic illness later in life. Puberty prevention techniques may be extended if we better grasp the early life variables associated with puberty.

The research team analyzed over 7,500 children from 36 birth cohorts from the NIH's Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program.

The ECHO Program is a global collaborative consortium of 69 current and completed affiliates that examine how early life environmental exposures, including physical, chemical, social, behavioral, biological, natural, and constructed settings, impact child health and development.

All cohorts included at least one measure of weight and height throughout the child's first five years of life, as well as at least one step of puberty development.

Male children who gained weight or developed quicker than their classmates throughout their first five years of life were related to a younger onset of puberty.

The researchers discovered comparable findings in female youngsters, but only those who gained weight more rapidly throughout early infancy (two to five years of age).

Female infants who gained weight more quickly throughout infancy (six months to two years) and early childhood began menstruating sooner and developed pubic hair more fully.

Additionally, the findings from this study may inform future research aimed at developing or testing interventions to help prevent an earlier onset of puberty, such as proper nutrition, environmental exposures, physical activity, and other growth-related behaviors during the first five years of life.

Reference:

Aris IM, Perng W, Dabelea D, et al. Analysis of Early-Life Growth and Age at Pubertal Onset in US Children. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(2):e2146873. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.46873

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