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Associations between childhood obesity and pubertal timing stratified by sex and race/ethnicity

Earlier puberty has been associated with numerous adverse mental, emotional, and physical health outcomes. Obesity is a known risk factor for earlier puberty in girls, but research with boys has yielded inconsistent findings. We examined sex- and race/ethnicity-specific associations between childhood obesity and puberty in a multiethnic cohort of 129,824 adolescents born at a Kaiser Permanente Northern California medical facility between 2003 and 2011. We used Weibull regression models to explore associations between childhood obesity and breast development onset (thelarche) in girls, testicular enlargement onset (gonadarche) in boys, and pubic hair development onset (pubarche) in both sexes, adjusting for important confounders. Clear dose-response relationships were observed. Boys with severe obesity had the greatest risk for earlier gonadarche (hazard ratio = 1.23, 95% confidence limit: 1.15, 1.32) and pubarche (hazard ratio = 1.44, 95% confidence limit: 1.34, 1.55), while underweight boys had delayed puberty compared with peers with normal body mass index. A similar dose-response relationship was observed in girls. There were significant interactions between childhood body mass index and race/ethnicity. Childhood obesity is associated with earlier puberty in both boys and girls, and the magnitude of the associations may vary by race/ethnicity. Prevention of childhood obesity may delay pubertal timing and mitigate health risks associated with both conditions.

Authors: Aghaee, Sara; Deardorff, Julianna; Quesenberry, Charles P; Greenspan, Louise C; Kushi, Lawrence H; Kubo, Ai

Am J Epidemiol. 2022 Nov 19;191(12):2026-2036.

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