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5 causes of early puberty and what to do about it

Early puberty puts children in a vulnerable position as they are not mentally ready to take on the physiological and emotional changes that set in.

Written by Debjani Arora |Published : February 11, 2016 5:33 PM IST

We often say that children grow up pretty fast. While that is true to some extent, but what isn t heartwarming is that they are hitting puberty early. These days children are hitting puberty at age seven or eight and it is becoming a matter of concern for both parents and healthcare experts. This puts children in a vulnerable position as they are not ready mentally to take on the physiological and emotional changes brought about due to hormonal alterations, says Dr Geetanjali Shah, pediatrician attached to Supraja Foundation and Ashvini IVF Center, Mumbai, and author of the book Garbhasanskar. This radical shift is really a concern as early puberty also translates into premature ageing. However, there is a lot you as a parent can do to take control of this situation. Here Dr Shah lists out the five most common causes of early puberty and how to dodge them.

1. Obesity and overweight: This is one of the prime concern and reason for early puberty. If a child s growth chart shows discrepancies in height-weight, it is the first sign of worry, add to it the perils of being overweight. We keep a watch on the BMI of children to see if one crosses the line from being overweight to obese, as all of this leads to hormonal changes that can lead to early puberty, says Dr Shah. Excess fat or adipose tissue in the body alters the levels of estrogen, insulin and leptin and this escalates the timing of puberty. The best way to avoid the obesity epidemic is to encourage children to take up more outdoor activities and indulge in them at least thrice a week for 35 minutes, says Dr Shah. Here is a complete guide for you know if your child is obese or just cute.

2. Environmental chemicals: BPA, a chemical found in plastic boxes, linings of food cans, dental sealants, water bottles and other food storage containers can steep into food and cause havoc inside body. In fact, there are studies that indicate BPA exposure as one of the main reasons for early puberty in girls [1]. Phthalates, another form of a potent chemical present in cosmetics, hair spray and deodorants also leads to early breast development in girls and, needless to say, is harmful to them [1].

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3. Increased junk food intake: This is a no-brainer that junk food is one of the prime causes of childhood obesity. The high amount of animal fat elevates insulin-like growth factor or IGF-1, which leads to pubertal development. This is more common for children whose intake of animal fat is higher between three and seven years of age. On the other hand, high intake of vegetarian protein delays the onset of puberty and also keeps the child in good health. This is not to say that you ban meat from your child s diet. However, avoid processed meat and red meat and keep the intake to a minimal, say like twice or thrice a week. Here are nine hidden sources of sugar that your should know about.

4. Hormonal changes: The society and media are also responsible for the early onset of puberty in children. Too much of violence, exposure to adult content -- everything has an effect on their brain, especially the pituitary gland, says Dr Shah. The gland when stimulated secretes gonadotropins which further stimulates the testicles or the ovaries to produce sex hormones, namely testosterone and estrogen, respectively which sets the stage for early puberty.

5. Malnourishment: Some children don t eat much and could turn to be fussy eaters; this is when parents offer them comfort foods that are usually high in sugar and fats. The child being nutrient deficit still suffers from chances of entering early puberty due to wrong eating habits that disrupts the hormonal cycles, says Dr Shah.

The bottom line is to keep your child healthy and help her grow as per her age, give her enough sunshine, hugs, nutritious food and smiles.


Roy JR, Chakraborty S, Chakraborty TR: Estrogen-like endocrine disrupting chemicals affecting puberty in humans--a review. Med Sci Monit 2009;15:RA137-145.

Image source: Shutterstock

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