Children belonging from underprivileged families are more prone to experience puberty early, which may result in serious health complications later in life, scientists revealed on Wednesday.
A study emerging from Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) in Australia found that boys who grew up in economically disadvantaged households had more than four times the risk of starting puberty early, at 10 or 11 years of age, while girls face double the risk.
As more kids are starting puberty at an earlier age than past generations, factors responsible for early puberty have started gaining greater attention recently.
The survey was conducted with 3,700 children. Parents were asked to report on signs of children's puberty at age eight to nine and 10 to 11 years.
These signs indicated a growth spurt, pubic hair and skin changes, plus breast growth and menstruation in girls, and voice deepening and facial hair in boys.
In the study that was published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that at 10 to 11 years of age, about 19 per cent of boys and 21 per cent of girls were classified in the early puberty group.
According to the researchers, boys from very disadvantaged homes had 4.2 times the risk of developing early and the same factors increased the risk of early puberty for girls.
Ying Sun, a visiting academic at MCRI said,"Ongoing exposure to extremely unfavourable household socioeconomic position in boys independently predicted a four-fold increase in the rate of early puberty".
"In girls, the increase was nearly two-fold, when compared with those from a favourable background", Sun added.
The disadvantage may be linked to early puberty for evolutionary reasons, researchers said.
In the face of hardship, (eg economic disadvantage, harsh physical environment, absence of a father etc), children may be programmed to start the reproductive process earlier to ensure their genes are passed on to the next generation, they said.
According to George Patton, professor at MCRI,"Early maturation has links in girls with emotional, behavioural and social problems during adolescence including depressive disorders, substance disorders, eating disorders and precocious sexuality".
"Early puberty also carries risks for the development of reproductive tract cancers and cardio-metabolic diseases in later life", he said.