Weight more closely linked to early puberty in preteen white girls than black girls

CHAPEL HILL Being overweight is closely associated with earlier-than-average puberty in white girls but much less so in black girls, the first large study of the subject shows. While a link between obesity and onset of puberty also exists among black girls, the connection is weak, researchers say, but they dont know why.

Something else must be happening among the latter children, they say. It might be that genetic or environmental factors are having a stronger effect on black girls in terms of when puberty starts, said Dr. Paul Kaplowitz, associate professor of pediatrics at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

Kaplowitz is lead author of a paper appearing in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics. Whether early puberty in girls is a problem or not depends on how you look at it, he said. A lot of people are concerned that early maturing girls might feel isolated and different from their peers. In extreme cases, they can end up rather short because if they start growing early, they may be mostly grown by the time they are 10.

The pediatric endocrinologist carried out the study with several colleagues including Dr. Marcia Herman-Giddens, adjunct professor of maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health.

Herman-Giddens made national news four years ago and since then as author of a paper in Pediatrics indicating that U.S. girls of both races appeared to enter puberty earlier than they did in previous decades. Black girls start maturing about a year before whites, her study showed.

A lively debate has since ensued among physicians over whether U.S. girls now mature earlier than they once did. Dr. Kaplowitz thought that since a higher percentage of African-American girls are overweight, that could be the reason we see that they begin puberty a year earlier than white girls on average, Herman-Giddens said. That was a good possibility,

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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