For years scientific studies have indicated that girls are entering puberty at a younger age. Now a new study, focused on boys, says they too are starting puberty up to 2 years earlier than the average age.
The study was conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP.) It involved more than 4,100 boys, aged 6 to 16, in 41 states. Pediatricians were recruited to participate in the study and reported their findings to the research network. Half of the boys were white, and the rest were evenly divided among African-American and Hispanic boys. The pediatrician visits took place between 2005 and 2010.
What the researchers found was that the white boys started puberty at age 10, a full year and a half earlier than what has been considered the normal average. The African-American boys started puberty at about 9 years of age, about 2 years earlier than the average. The Hispanic boys were about 10 years old -the average age for boys of Mexican American heritage. The new study also included boys from other Hispanic backgrounds.
Puberty development was measured by examining the size of the boys testes and the start of pubic hair growth. Testes enlargement was seen at age 6 in nine-percent of white boys, almost 20 percent in African-American boys, and seven-percent in Hispanic boys.
Pubic hair growth started about a year later than testicle enlargement in all groups. That's about the normal time pubic hair growth begins, but it began at an earlier age in conjunction with the testes growth.
So what does this mean for young boys?
"If it's true that boys are starting puberty younger, it's not clear that means anything negative or has any implications for long-term," said Adelman, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on adolescence. But it might be advantageous for parents to talk their young boys sooner about the birds and bees. Children this young are not always prepared for the physical changes that occur to their bodies and may not be emotionally equipped to handle these changes.
The study also eliminated boys with other health concerns such as thyroid abnormalities, brain tumors or chronic medical conditions that required certain medications. All these conditions have been associated with possible early puberty.
The reason for early puberty in boys was not a part of the study, but researchers have suggested that obesity and hormone enhancing products may be contributors.
The study contained other limitations that doctors say could have skewed the results. Testes were measured only once and pediatricians were volunteers and not randomly selected leading to the possibility that early maturing patients were overly represented.
The results will probably not be established as the new average age of puberty for boys until more research studies are completed and support this study's results.
The bottom line seems to be at this point, that parents should keep a close eye on their boys as they mature. If you see that your youngster is entering puberty at a younger age that normal, talk to your pediatrician about what to expect and how to talk to your boy about the changes he is going through.
The study was published in the October edition of the online journal Pediatrics.