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.