Early pu­berty and poverty linked


Early pu­berty is ‘‘pro­foundly’’ more likely to strike dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren than those from a wealthy home, new re­search has shown.

Pro­fes­sor Melissa Wake, an Auck­land Univer­sity pae­di­a­tri­cian in­volved in the study, said ma­jor hor­monal changes at a young age helped fuel the poverty cy­cle. Child­hood obe­sity has also been linked to early pu­berty.

Wake’s study fol­lowed 3700 Aus­tralian chil­dren from birth and found the boys from low so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds were more than four times as likely to start pu­berty be­fore age 11 than their bet­ter-off coun­ter­parts. The risk of men­stru­a­tion be­fore age 11 dou­bled in girls from poorer homes.

At that age, around 20 per cent of all chil­dren in the study had started pu­berty.

Wake said the re­search’s find­ings would also be ap­pli­ca­ble to New Zealan­ders.

Wake said while she couldn’t be sure what ex­actly linked a child’s de­prived back­ground with start­ing pu­berty early, stress was a likely con­tender. ‘‘Stress re­pro­grams the brain,’’ she said.

Her fel­low re­searcher, Pro­fes­sor Ying Sun, said chil­dren fac­ing hard­ship might be hor­mon­ally pro­grammed to re­pro­duce ear­lier to boost chances of genes pass­ing on to the next gen­er­a­tion.


Pro­fes­sor Melissa Wake says her study’s find­ings highlight the im­por­tance of tack­ling the is­sues be­hind early pu­berty at a so­ci­ety-wide level.

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