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Obesity is linked to rise in number of girls who hit puberty before the age of EIGHT, data shows

Obesity is linked to rise in number of girls who hit puberty before the age of EIGHT, data shows

  • Experts warn the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic is fuelling the rise in cases
  • Last year’s numbers for girls with ‘precocious puberty’ were up 14% from 2020
  • Around 14.4 per cent of children aged four and five were obese in 2020/21
  • Studies suggest having too many fat cells can stimulate sex hormone production

A record number of girls under the age of eight were treated in hospital last year after hitting puberty too soon, official figures show.

Experts warn the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic is fuelling the rise in cases, with some girls starting to mature before they even begin school.

Girls are considered to have hit puberty too early if they start their periods or begin to develop breasts before the age of eight – three years earlier than average.

Children with a high-fat diet who are not physically active are known to develop earlier than their slimmer, more active peers.

Girls are considered to have hit puberty too early if they start their periods or begin to develop breasts before the age of eight – three years earlier than average

Girls were admitted to hospital for so-called ‘precocious puberty’ on 1,510 occasions last year, according to NHS Digital. This is up 14 per cent from 1,322 in 2019/20 and 1,280 in 2018/19.

Including boys, doctors recorded a total of 1,720 admissions due to early puberty last year – 90 of which were children under the age of five.

Early puberty may have no obvious cause or could be linked to obesity, a brain tumour, a problem with the ovaries or thyroid gland, or a genetic disorder.

Studies have suggested that having too many fat cells can stimulate sex hormone production – which may trigger early onset puberty.

Around 14.4 per cent of children aged four and five were obese in 2020/21 – up from 9.9 per cent the year before.

Dr Tabitha Randell, a spokesman for the British Society for Paediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes, said: ‘We have definitely seen a rise in children being referred to hospital with precocious puberty and this is being driven by high levels of childhood obesity.

Children with a high-fat diet who are not physically active are known to develop earlier than their slimmer, more active peers

Children with a high-fat diet who are not physically active are known to develop earlier than their slimmer, more active peers

‘Maturing this young can make life difficult for children as they have to learn how to deal with periods and emotional changes years before their peers.’

She also warned that children who go through puberty early could start smoking, drinking and having sex at a younger age – and are also more likely to leave school without qualifications.

The NHS website recommends parents take their daughters to a GP if they show signs of puberty before the age of eight and sons before the age of nine.

This could be treated with medication to reduce hormone levels and pause sexual development.

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