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Obesity Epidemic Blamed for Girls Developing Breasts Earlier

Update Date: Nov 04, 2013 04:01 PM EST

The obesity epidemic may mean that American girls are developing breasts and entering puberty earlier than ever before. A new longitudinal study reveals that obese girls are significantly more likely to experience early puberty

New research reveals that obesity is the largest predictor of earlier onset puberty in girls, and white girls are affected sooner than previously thought. Researchers said the latest findings supports previous studies on earlier onset of puberty in girls of all races.

"The impact of earlier maturation in girls has important clinical implications involving psychosocial and biologic outcomes," lead researcher Dr. Frank Biro, a physician in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said in a news release. "The current study suggests clinicians may need to redefine the ages for both early and late maturation in girls."

Researchers are worried because girls who mature earlier are at risk of lower self-esteem, depression, norm-breaking behaviors and lower academic achievement. Earlier sexual maturation also leads to greater risks of obesity, hypertension as well as breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer.

The study involved 1,239 girls aged six to eight years old. Researchers looked at the ages of girls at the onset of breast development and the impact of body mass index and race/ethnicity. The girls were followed at regular intervals from 2004 to 2011. The findings show that the respective ages at the onset of breast development varied by race, body mass index and geographic location. Researcher found that white and Asian girls started developing breasts at a median age of 9.7 years, which was earlier than previously reported. Black girls started experiencing breast development at a median age of 8.8 years and Hispanic girls at 9.3 years.

"The obesity epidemic appears to be a prime driver in the decrease in age at onset of breast development in contemporary girls," wrote the researchers in the study, according to CBS News.

Dr. Anders Juul who wasn't part of the study told Reuters that the findings "confirm an ongoing downward trend in pubertal timing among U.S. girls."

"It's been worrying for the U.S. as well as the rest of the world," said Juul, who heads the Department of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark, according to Reuters.

The findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.

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