Girls ‘started puberty EARLIER during Covid’ as scientists blame unhealthier lifestyles in pandemic lockdowns
- Two girls a month diagnosed with ‘rapidly progressive’ early puberty pre-Covid
- But, between March 2020 and June 2021, that leapt to almost four girls a month
A soaring number of girls started puberty early during the pandemic, which could be due to stress or reduced physical activity,
A study looked at 133 girls in Italy referred to a specialist paediatric unit because their chest had started developing before the age of eight.
In the four years before the pandemic, from January 2016 to March 2020, 72 girls were diagnosed with ‘rapidly progressive’ early puberty — where, for example, their height was increasing far too fast or they had a high level of hormones linked to adolescence.
That meant less than two girls a month were being identified as rapidly going through puberty far too young.
But, in the shorter period between March 2020 and June 2021, that had leapt to almost four girls a month being diagnosed — 61 in total.
There is a significant lack of knowledge about the causes of children going through puberty early, but some experts have suggested the blue light from screens and a lack of exercise could disrupt girls’ normal hormonal development
Researchers note that during this period, when Italy, like the UK, was largely living under lockdowns, the girls seen spent an average of two hours a day using electronic devices, and 88.5 per cent ceased all physical activity.
There is a significant lack of knowledge about the causes of children going through puberty early, but some experts have suggested the blue light from screens and a lack of exercise could disrupt girls’ normal hormonal development.
Dr Mohamad Maghnie, who led the study from the University of Genoa and the Giannina Gaslini Institute in Italy, said: ‘The role of stress, social isolation, increased conflicts between parents, economic status and the increased use of hand and surface sanitisers represent potentially further interesting hypotheses as to why early puberty is increasing in youth.
‘There is an interesting evolutionary hypothesis that, when girls are very stressed, they have their period early in order to reproduce and protect the future of the species.’
What is precocious puberty in girls?
Early puberty, also called precocious puberty, is when girls have signs of puberty before the age of eight.
They may develop some signs of puberty at a young age, but not others.
For example, their period may start but they have no breast development.
Doctors don’t usually know what causes early puberty.
But it could be genetic or a problem with the brain, ovaries of thyroid gland.
A GP may recommend seeing a specialist if they think the cause should be investigated.
In some cases, doctors prescribe medication to reduce hormone levels and pause sexual development for a few years.
Children generally enter puberty earlier than in the past because rates of obesity are higher, and carrying too much fat can disrupt the hormones which determine when a child becomes a teenager.
However the study did not find a significant difference in the weight of girls diagnosed as going through puberty early before the pandemic and during it.
There is also a chance that girls’ parents, spending more time at home with them during lockdowns, were more likely to notice early signs of puberty, so got their daughters diagnosed earlier.
However a similar rise in the rate of children going through puberty early during Covid has been seen in countries including India and Turkey.
In total, researchers looked at 289 girls suspected to be going through puberty because they developed ‘breast buds’ — a very early sign of developing breasts —before the age of eight.
The number of these girls sent to a paediatric endocrine unit rose by almost 80 per cent during the pandemic compared to the previous four years.
The number diagnosed with rapidly progressive early puberty was 30 per cent higher, according to the study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.
Before the pandemic, just 41 per cent of girls referred to the clinic were found to have rapidly progressive early puberty, but that rose to 53.5 per cent during Covid.
During the pandemic, girls were also diagnosed at about four months younger, when they were seven years and eight months old, on average, rather than almost at the age of eight.
Source: Read Full Article