COVID Pandemic possibly accelerated early puberty in girls.

COVID Pandemic possibly accelerated early puberty in girls.

Rise in Precocious Puberty Among Girls during COVID-19 Pandemic: Factors and Implications

By Cara Murez, HealthDay Reporter

Girl on a tablet

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth a surprising trend among girls – an increase in precocious puberty, a phenomenon where children’s bodies begin the process of transforming into adult bodies earlier than expected. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, this rise in precocious puberty is attributed to factors such as increased screen time, reduced exercise, and other potential risk factors.

In usual circumstances, the physical changes associated with puberty, such as breast development and the onset of menstruation in girls, commence between the ages of 8 and 14. However, the study found that during the pandemic, more girls were referred to pediatric endocrinologists for precocious puberty, indicating a noticeable disruption in the natural timeline of adolescence. The researchers examined data from 133 girls in Italy, comparing rates of precocious puberty before and after the pandemic.

Interestingly, the study revealed a significant increase in the number of cases diagnosed during the pandemic period. Between January 2016 and March 2020, there were 72 cases of precocious puberty, whereas between March 2020 and June 2021, there were 61 cases. These findings suggest a concerning trend that cannot be ignored.

One of the potential underlying factors contributing to precocious puberty during the pandemic is related to changes in lifestyle. The researchers noted that girls diagnosed with precocious puberty had higher body mass index (BMI) values compared to those who weren’t diagnosed. The excessive use of electronic devices, with an average screen time of two hours per day, was also a common behavior among these girls. Alarmingly, about 88.5% of them discontinued all physical activity.

Dr. Mohamad Maghnie, a study author from the University of Genoa and the Giannina Gaslini Institute in Italy, shed light on the complexity of the issue. He stated, “Our study confirms the rise in precocious puberty diagnoses during COVID-19 and identifies contributing factors such as poor eating and exercise habits, too much screen time and impaired sleep. We found an increase in weight gain among girls diagnosed with precocious puberty during the pandemic, and rapid increase in body weight is associated with advanced pubertal development.”

The link between COVID-19 and endocrine diseases, including obesity, further adds to the concern. Endocrine diseases have been associated with early puberty in girls, potentially exacerbating the issue. The implications of these findings highlight the importance of understanding the relationship between the pandemic and its impact on children’s physical and psychological health.

While the study provides valuable insights into the rise of precocious puberty during the pandemic, it also acknowledges that there are other potential factors at play. Stress, social isolation, increased conflicts between parents, economic status, and the excessive use of sanitizers are all elements that may contribute to the early onset of puberty. Furthermore, the researchers suggest that biological adaptation cannot be entirely ruled out as a contributing factor.

As the world continues to grapple with the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial to prioritize children’s health and well-being. Strategies to mitigate the risk of precocious puberty include encouraging healthier eating habits, promoting physical activity, and balancing screen time. Additionally, fostering an environment that supports positive mental health and reduces stress can also play a critical role in reducing the impact of these unprecedented circumstances.

In conclusion, the rise in precocious puberty among girls during the COVID-19 pandemic presents a complex issue that warrants attention and further investigation. By understanding the factors contributing to this phenomenon, we can take proactive steps to minimize its negative effects. As we navigate the challenges brought upon by the pandemic, fostering a healthy and supportive environment for children is paramount to ensuring their well-being and long-term development.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on precocious puberty.

SOURCE: Journal of the Endocrine Society, news release, Aug. 3, 2023