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Boys Hitting Puberty Early, Says Study: Obesity to be Blamed?

Update Date: Oct 23, 2012 09:38 AM EDT

As children, most of us always wished that we would grow up soon. From little girls trying on their mother's heels to young boys trying to shave that practically non-existent beard, we have seen children do all the "adult-like" things to feel mature.

Apparently, the children of this generation don't even need to try hard! They are already maturing much before their age. While this isn't in terms of reaching adulthood, new reports suggest that children these days are hitting puberty much before they did in the previous generations.

Earlier reports have suggested that girls are developing faster than the normal age considered for puberty. But the latest report also suggests the same about young boys in the United States.  

When compared to decades-old data, it was found that boys were maturing six months to two years sooner, based on their genital development, Fox News reported.

"They (parents) need to talk to their boys earlier than they would have thought about puberty and sexual development and all of those related issues," Marcia Herman-Giddens at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said.

The finding of the study is important for researchers who are investigating on why exactly the age of puberty in children is coming down. Also, the revelations are important for parents to understand when exactly they should consider their children mature enough and ready to talk about the physiological changes they are going through as part of drifting to adulthood, the lead author of the study said.

"They need to talk to their boys earlier than they would have thought about puberty and sexual development and all of those related issues," said Marcia Herman-Giddens at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Although there have been reports of girls as young as 7 and 8 hitting puberty, there hasn't been anticipation of a similar report for boys. Some doctors have blamed estrogen-like chemicals in the environment to be responsible for early puberty in girls. According to that theory, the same chemicals should be delaying the age of puberty in boys.

However, obviously, maturing physically does not mean they are psychologically and socially mature too, the researchers say.

"Now there's probably a bigger disparity between their physical maturation and their psychosocial maturation," said Dr. Frank Biro, head of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children's Medical Center, who wasn't involved in the new analysis.

"People are going to interact with them like they're older," he told Reuters Health.

For the current study, the researchers relied on data from 144 U.S. pediatric practices and included 4,131 boys aged between 6 and 16. They found that on an average, genital changes in boys started around the age of 9 or 10, and pubic hair appeared between age 10 and 11 1/2.

Also, it was found that testicle size reached its common measure for the start of puberty a little before reaching age 10, while boys could be pronounced fully sexually matured by the age of 15 or 16.

African-American boys were found to develop even before their white and Hispanic peers, said Herman-Giddens, according to the researchers.

When the current data was compared to the data from studies conducted between 1950s and 1970s on white boys in England, it was found that during that time, genital development in boys started at age 11.6 on an average. Pubic hair development typically took place between age 12 and 13, which is two years later than the current data.

Herman-Giddens believes that a possible reason for boys hitting puberty early could be due to obesity, which is known to alter hormone levels in the body.

"The reasons it is happening may not be healthy," she told Reuters Health.

However, regardless of the findings, researchers emphasized that parents should pay close attention to the changes and developments in their children and should know when to start talking to them about sexual activity.

"Parents need to monitor both their daughters and their sons a little more closely than they would have before," Biro said.

The study was published online Saturday by the journal Pediatrics.

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