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Associations between infant growth and pubertal onset timing in a multiethnic prospective cohort of girls

Early puberty increases risk of adverse health conditions throughout the life course. US girls are experiencing earlier puberty without clear reasons. Studies suggest early life factors, such as infant growth, may influence pubertal timing. We assessed the associations between infant growth and onset of breast development (thelarche), pubic hair development (pubarche), and menarche in girls. A prospective cohort of girls born at a Kaiser Permanente Northern California medical facility in 2005-11 was used. Weight-for-age z-scores were calculated at birth and 24 months. Difference in z-scores greater than 0.67 represent rapid “catch-up” growth, less than -0.67 represent delayed “catch-down” growth, and between -0.67 and 0.67 represent “normal” growth. Pubertal onset was measured using clinician-assessed sexual maturity ratings (SMRs) and defined as the age at transition from SMR 1 to SMR 2 + for both thelarche and pubarche. SMR data was collected through June 2020. Menarche was analyzed as a secondary outcome. Weibull and modified Poisson regression models were used. Models were adjusted for potential confounders. There were 15,196 girls included in the study. Approximately 30.2% experienced catch-up growth, 25.8% experienced catch-down growth, and 44% had normal growth. Girls with catch-up growth had increased risk of earlier thelarche (hazard ratio = 1.26, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.18, 1.35), pubarche (1.38, 95% CI: 1.28, 1.48), and menarche (< 12y, relative risk = 1.52, 95% CI: 1.36, 1.69) compared to those with normal growth, after adjusting for covariates. These associations were partially mediated by childhood body mass index. Catch-down growth was associated with later pubertal onset. Girls who experience infant catch-up growth have higher risk of earlier pubertal development compared to girls with normal growth and the associations are partially explained by childhood obesity. This information may help clinicians to monitor girls who are at high risk of developing earlier.

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

BMC Pediatr. 2022 Mar 31;22(1):171. Epub 2022-03-31.

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