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Early puberty in girls associated with depression, study shows

Posted July 7

The number of girls showing signs of puberty before age 8 is higher than ever — and a recent study found a link between early puberty in girls and depression.

The study published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics analyzed 8,327 young adolescents in Hong Kong who were born around April and May of 1997. The researchers had access to the adolescents' health records, allowing them to gather information related to their physical maturity. Additionally, the adolescents were asked to participate in a nine-item patient questionnaire of self-reported depression.

The Wall Street Journal explained early or precocious puberty can de defined as the onset of puberty in girls under the age of 8 and for boys under the age of 9. One of the most significant findings in the research was how early breast development, caused by rising amounts of estrogen during puberty, was associated with a high risk of depression.

"Whether these findings are indicators of the effects of hormones or transient effects of social pressures remain to be determined," the study stated.

Jane Mendle, a clinical psychologist at Cornell University, told the New York Times that a young adolescent's transition to puberty can be a stressful time, causing depression. She said that during puberty girls are at risk of anxiety issues, eating disorders and self-injury. Children who start puberty around ages 8 to 12 are forced to handle these challenges when they have a lower cognitive development and emotional understanding of what's happening.

Early puberty may change the way a young girl behaves and how others, mostly young boys, behave toward her. This can be extremely confusing for girls because they are more likely to be teased about their bodies or become victims of sexual innuendo, Scientific American reported on early onset puberty last year.

“We know that the early maturing girls are at an increased risk of some of these risk-taking behaviors: alcohol use, smoking, drug use and earlier engagement in sexual behaviors,” Dr. Frank Biro, a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, told the Wall Street Journal. “We also know some of the longer-term consequences. As adults they’re at higher risk for having obesity, Type 2 diabetes and breast cancer.”

Additionally, the presence of chemicals known as endocrine disrupters in the body have been found to mimic estrogen and can contribute to premature breast development, according to Medical Daily. Phthalates, common endocrine disruptors, are used in the production of plastics.

Scientific American said children are less likely to enter precocious puberty if their mothers breastfed them. The publication also stated regular physical activity and a healthy diet can reduce the chance of precocious puberty by causing mood improvement and reducing weight gain.

Email: mmcnulty@deseretnews.com

Twitter: megchristine5

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