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New data has revealed a significant increase in the number of girls experiencing early puberty, with some girls as young as four years old affected. Experts suggest that obesity may be a key

contributing factor to this rise.

According to NHS Digital hospital data, the instances of "precocious puberty" in girls surged to 2,032 cases last year, up from 1,510 previously. Shockingly, among these cases, 79 children had not even reached their fifth birthdays.

The 35% increase in early puberty cases is believed to be linked to obesity, as there is a well-established connection between obesity and premature puberty. An Italian medical study also suggested that Covid lockdowns, which led to reduced outdoor activity and increased computer time for children, could be a potential trigger for weight gain and early puberty.

Dr. Tabitha Randell, chair of the British Society for Endocrinology and Diabetes, emphasized the long-standing association between obesity and early puberty, noting the emotional challenges that children may face when maturing at a young age.

Typically, girls begin puberty around the age of 11, but it can start as early as eight or as late as 13. Early puberty is defined as the onset of puberty signs, such as breast development or menstruation, before the age of eight.

While precocious puberty can sometimes result from genetic factors, brain issues (like tumors), or ovarian or thyroid problems, it can be managed by addressing the underlying cause or administering medication to regulate hormone levels and delay development.

In contrast, early puberty among boys is far less common, accounting for just one in nine cases.

A 2021 study conducted by the National Child Measurement Programme and NHS Digital reported the largest increase in obesity rates among schoolchildren in the UK, with a notable rise among four- and five-year-olds in reception classes. The study found that obesity prevalence in these age groups increased from 9.9% in 2019-20 to 14.4% in 2020-21.

The study also highlighted that 27.7% of all children were either overweight or obese in reception, rising to 40.9% in year 6. Additionally, boys had higher obesity rates than girls in both age groups.

Dr. Mohamad Maghnie, who led an Italian study on early puberty, suggested that factors such as stress, social isolation, parental conflicts, economic status, and increased use of hand sanitizers could play roles in the rise of early puberty. He also mentioned an evolutionary hypothesis that links early puberty to periods of high stress.

The earlier onset of puberty in children is often attributed to the higher rates of obesity, which can disrupt the hormonal processes governing adolescence. Early signs of puberty in girls typically include breast development, followed by menstruation and the growth of body hair in new areas like the armpits and pubic region, along with the possibility of acne and body odor. Photo by Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia commons.