Obesity - The commonest culprit of early puberty in girls

  • By Dr. Neha Agrawal

The average age for puberty in most ethnicities is 12-15 years for girls. With time an earlier onset is being noted for puberty in girls. The signs of puberty are development of breasts, menstruation, genital hair, etc. These signs are being noted earlier than normal now – this is called as precocious puberty. About 80% of the cases report developing of the breasts starts even before completion of 9 or 10 years of age and menstruation before completion of 12 years of age. This phenomenon has been found to be strongly linked with obesity from an early age.

Several researches have been conducted to establish and confirm this link. The extra pounds directly influence and alter the sex hormone levels in the body and initiate early signs of puberty.

There are no major health hazards associated with early puberty as such, it is simply an early maturity for the girls at a younger age. There are other factors which also lead to early puberty like plastic additives in the environment. They directly influence the primary hormonal axis (hormonal changes) and set out the process of puberty early.

The major hazard is on the mind of the kids. The girls who report early puberty also need to mature mentally and psychologically. They find it difficult to handle the changes in the body and emotional disturbances may also ensue.

There is a high risk of low self-esteem, heightened sense of self-consciousness, feel strong peer pressure and feeling ‘abnormal’ or ‘different’ from others. Teenage or adolescence is the time when youngsters want to ‘belong’ to their reference and peer groups. They want to act and behave similar to their friends and feeling alienated at such a crucial stage may lead to long term social adjustment issues.

Physical development is not a corollary to emotional or social development. The girls need a lot of support, strong family guidance and bonding, close friends, developmental activities to cope with changes of puberty and manage the hormonal chaos in their body.

Managing the problem

There are two ways to manage any problem always – one, prevent it; two, solve it wisely.

Prevention is a good choice here because obesity is harmful in many ways. Early puberty is not the only result, there are several more. Maintaining the right body weight is not an option, it is necessary. Good diet, adequate exercise and a balanced lifestyle needs to be ingrained in the children from the very beginning.

If your daughter is hitting puberty, be by her side. Give her all the support she needs and guide her to become a strong confident girl.

Studies say that overweight girls (about 22 pounds over the normal limit for age and height) have an 80% chance of reaching puberty early.