Nov. 4, 2002 -- There are increasing reports of girls reaching sexual maturity at an earlier age than they did in the past. And one possible culprit is thought to be the rise of obesity among children.
In a study in the November issue of Pediatrics, overweight girls were more likely to mature sexually at a younger age than the average girl. But the opposite was true for boys.
The study compared more than 3,000 boys and girls between the ages of 8-14. The results concur with previous research that adolescent girls who are overweight tend to not only mature sexually earlier, but also have a greater likelihood of being obese as adults. In fact, girls who do mature early are almost twice as likely to be overweight.
On the other hand, the boys reached sexually maturity earlier if they were thinner.
One possible reason behind the sexual maturity/overweight link is that a certain amount of body fat is needed for the onset of menstruation. Fat is one source of estrogen production. Thus, heavier girls mature earlier.
But some have questioned this reasoning and suggest that sexual maturity is impacted by numerous factors -- including genetics, diet, nutrition, socioeconomic conditions, exercise, and general health.
The reasoning behind the observed opposite link in boys is less well understood, say the researchers, and more research needs to be done into the association between weight and sexual maturity in boys and girls.