Record numbers of girls are needing hospital treatment after hitting puberty too soon…some as young as four. Experts warn the obesity epidemic is a key factor.
The number of occasions a hospital doctor saw a young girl going through puberty too early soared 35 percent in the last year, according to new data.
The shock figures come after a medical study from Italy, where scientists said Covid lockdowns appeared to be a potential trigger factor, with children putting on weight and spending much more time on computer screens.
Scientists are not clear on the causes of early puberty but girls with a high-fat diet who are not physically active are known to physically mature earlier than their slimmer more active pals.
Girls are considered to have hit puberty too early if they show signs before the age of eight, although normally puberty occurs around 11.
NHS Digital hospital data shows last year girls were seen at hospital on 2,032 occasions for what is termed “precocious puberty”. That was an increase of more than a third on the 1,510 figure for the year before. The vast majority of the cases last year related to young girls.
Boys hitting puberty early made up just one in every nine cases.
The average age of these patients being treated for precocious puberty was eight, but there were 79 occasions where hospital medics recorded the child had not even reached the age of five.
Doctors are not sure exactly what triggers the cases although genetic disorders, problems in the brain such as tumours, or issues with the ovaries or thyroid are believed to be linked. In severe cases girls can be put on drugs to slow down the process.
Tam Fry, patron of the Child Growth Foundation, said: “The NHS has failed these and many more thousands of girls from having to cope with this devastating condition.
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“Thirty years ago it was urged to check all girls yearly precisely to prevent precocious puberty blighting their lives so early but it refused the checks.
“Tragic though it may sound, the four-year-old was lucky to be referred to hospital so young.”
Dr Tabitha Randell, chair of the British Society for Paediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes said: “There has been a clear link with increased levels of obesity and early puberty for many years now.
“In 2020-21, the percentage of children in year 6 (normally aged 10-11) who were measured and were found to be overweight or obese increased to 40.9 percent, having been at around 35 percent in the five years before that. Yet when we talk about issues associated with obesity, precocious puberty is not often mentioned.
“Maturing at a young age can be extremely difficult for children, who are often not emotionally ready for the physical changes that come with puberty. It is very distressing for children and their families.”
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