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Obesity and early puberty

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

A new study confirms what earlier studies have found: girls who are obese begin puberty earlier.

With childhood obesity approaching an epidemic, early puberty is becoming more common. There appears to be a critical weight for girls, above which the body starts its journey to womanhood with thelarche (breast buds), pubarche (pubic and axillary hair) and finally, menarche (onset of menses).   So, in general, the heavier a young girl is, the earlier the onset of her secondary sexual characteristics.

While we don’t know all the possible consequences of early puberty, we know that puberty is a time of emotional turmoil. For a younger child, that’s going to be more difficult.

We also know that youngsters have a great need to feel like they fit in and the combination of obesity and early puberty can punch a hole in a young girl’s self-esteem.

So, watch the eating habits of your whole family, and help your children make good choices –  just as you make healthier choices for yourself. As I’ve said before, when it comes to battling the bulge, I’ve been there, so I know it’s a struggle. But maintaining a healthy weight is essential, for everyone.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH