The Risks of Obesity and Early Puberty

Scientists say that the current levels of childhood obesity are nothing short of a public health crisis. Childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed in recent years. In 1976, only 5% of kids between the ages of 12 and 19 were obese. By 2006, that number had jumped to 17.6%.

A child is considered obese if their BMI is in the 95th percentile or higher for their age. Obesity in children has long been linked to a wide range of health problems including high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma.

Doctors are beginning to find another probable health risk associated with childhood obesity: early onset of puberty in girls. Doctors are not yet sure why obesity seems to cause early puberty, but the correlation is clear: studies have shown that girls who have higher BMIs are more prone to early onset puberty. In some cases, obese girls are developing breasts at ages as young as 9 years old.

Early puberty comes with a large list of health, mental and social risks of its own. There is evidence that early onset of puberty can increase a girl’s risks of reproductive cancers later in life. There is also an increased risk of adult obesity. Additionally, girls who enter puberty early are more likely to experience psychosocial stress. They are more likely to abuse alcohol, and engage in risky sexual behavior as teens.

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