Boys Join Girls in the Race to Early Puberty

Health & Wellness on 10.22.12
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If you were waiting for the teen years, or at least the tween years, for that "birds and bees talk," think again. This is about more than just the proliferation of pornography.

Pediatricians Document Early Puberty in Boys

Anyone old enough to have been through puberty knows that the roller coaster of hormones initiates layers of complexity in life that spell the end of the innocence of childhood. Our kids need parental guidance and assurance more than ever once that delicate stage of physical and psychological maturation starts.

Moms and dads who are carefully planning to provide this critical support need to know about this new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) documenting earlier onset of puberty in boys. The AAP found that:

Boys in the U.S. are experiencing the onset of puberty six months to two years earlier than reported in previous research.  Pediatricians recorded the earliest stage of puberty as occurring in non-Hispanic white boys at age 10.14 years; in non-Hispanic African-American boy at age 9.14 years, and in Hispanic boys at age 10.4.

The research focused on "observed mean ages of stage 2 genital and pubic hair growth, and early testicular enlargement" -- which is med-speak for physical indications of the onset of puberty. The study, conducted as part of an AAP network for pediatric research in office settings (PROS), amassed data from 144 pediatric offices in 41 states, covering more than 4100 boys who were seen by 212 pediatricians.

Early Puberty in Girls Attributed to Chemical Exposures

A 1997 PROS study was the first to provide scientific evidence for earlier onset of puberty in girls, which launched a lot of examination of the chemical exposures in our everyday lives that might contribute to rewriting the hormonal messages that trigger these important life changes.

Many scientists and regulators quickly put two and two together: our environment is full of chemicals that mimic the female hormones, so it makes sense that girls experience the onset of puberty. But why are the boys maturing early, too?

Why Are Boys Maturing Earlier?

The question remains outside the scope of this AAP report. Further research on the gender-bender chemicals suspected in dropping male birth rates, testicular degeneration, and increasing instances of penis deformation will certainly top agendas in the wake of this study.

But before we can jump to such conclusions, we must rule out the natural effects of women becoming mothers at an older age, increased use of hormones during fertility treatments, and a host of other confounding factors such as the weighty question of our growing average body mass -- fat deposits can store hormones and therefore could be affecting the stages of development of our next generation of young men (and women).

The study "Secondary Sexual Characteristics in Boys: Data from the Pediatric Research in Office Settings Network,"  to be published in Pediatrics next month, was released online ahead of the AAP National Conference & Exhibition.


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