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Health

Early puberty in black children
Early physical development no cause for alarm
 
Published Wednesday, November 21, 2012 8:17 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

A new study suggests that American boys are entering puberty six months to two years earlier than they did decades ago.


Researchers found that black boys were showing first signs of sexual maturity at age 9, followed by white boys at 10 and Hispanic boys at between 10 and 11.


The study, which was published online to coincide with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ national conference last month in New Orleans, will appear in the November print edition of Pediatrics.


Studies dating back as early as 1997 have concluded that American girls are also entering puberty sooner with black girls maturing at younger ages (as early as 7) than their white and Hispanic counterparts.

Should parents be alarmed by these findings?


Dr. Preeti Matkins M.D. says not necessarily.


Matkins said one of the biggest concerns is stunted growth in females because they tend to stop growing after their menstrual cycles start. She points out that while researchers have found that the onset of puberty – typically breast development or pubic hair growth in girls – is occurring much earlier, the first menses begins on an average of no more than six months sooner than typically reported, which is not a major cause for concern.


She suggests that parents who are concerned that their daughter is maturing too quickly or may begin menstruating early, should consult with their physician. There are treatments to delay the process.


Matkins says parents should also be aware children may experience social issues caused by early development. She says people may treat them like they are older because they look older. They may be expected to behave more maturely or be the target of inappropriate sexual advances.


She says parents should communicate to their children how to respond in these situations. They should also be prepared to help the child cope with any insecurities or embarrassment they feel about their changing bodies.


There are many theories about what is causing earlier puberty in American children. Some attribute it to increased rates of obesity. While others say it is the result of being exposed to certain chemicals and hormones in our food and environment.

However, Matkins says more research is needed to pinpoint what is fueling this trend.


 In the meantime, she says concerned parents should focus on the basics when it comes to keeping their children healthy – such as making sure they eat a balanced diet that is low in processed foods and high in fresh fruits and vegetables.


 Matkins says parents should also ensure that children are getting enough rest and exercise each day.

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