Parents worry when they see signs of early puberty in their children. We don’t like to see a child experience physical changes that they may not be ready for emotionally. Early puberty can also cause a child to stop growing earlier than they would have otherwise, resulting in shorter than expected stature. Research has linked obesity to increased risk for early puberty in girls for some time now. A study presented this spring shows there is a similar effect in boys.
The University of Chile in Santiago’s reviewed data from Chile’s Growth and Obesity Cohort Study. The following results were reported in sciencedaily.com’s article Obesity Speeds Up the Start of Puberty in Boys:
In 527 Chilean boys ages 4 to 7 years, both total body obesity and central obesity, or excess belly fat, were associated with greater odds of starting puberty before age 9 . . .
The study found that nine percent of the boys in the study experienced early puberty, regardless of their weight. Five or six-year-old boys in the study with general obesity (BMI greater than 85th percentile for their age) were found to have a 2.7 greater likelihood of having early puberty and those with central obesity (excess belly fat) had a 6.4 greater chance of experiencing early onset puberty. The difference here is that central obesity more closely correlates with excess fat while the higher BMI associated with general obesity can occur in those who have a higher muscle mass, such as athletes.
In addition to the other problems mentioned above, early puberty is thought to be related to a higher rate of testicular cancer in adulthood and is associated with a higher risk of behavioral problems. These facts, combined with the other problems associated with childhood obesity, reinforce the importance of establishing and maintaining healthy eating habits and exercise routines from an early age.