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Earlier puberty seen in boys, just like in girls
On average, white boys started puberty at age 10, a year and a half earlier than what has long been considered the normal average. For black boys, the average age of 9 was about two years earlier than in previous research. Among Hispanics, age 10 was similar to previous research that only involved Mexican-American boys. The new study included boys from other Hispanic backgrounds.
Testes enlargement was seen at age 6 in 9 percent of white boys, almost 20 percent of blacks and 7 percent of Hispanics.
Pubic hair growth, another early sign of puberty, started about a year after testes enlargement in all groups but still earlier than previously thought.
In girls, breast development is the first sign, and recent research suggested that it starts at age 7 in about 10 percent of white girls, 23 percent of blacks and 15 percent of Hispanics. That’s substantially higher than rates reported more than a decade ago.
But some experts have questioned methods used in studies in girls, noting that the age when girls start menstruating has not changed much and remains around age 12 on average.
Dr. Dianne Deplewski, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Chicago, has not seen any increase in boys referred to her for signs of early puberty. She said it’s possible that the new study results were skewed by families who brought their boys to the doctor because they already had concerns about their health.
The study had other limitations. Testes were measured just once, and doctors weren’t randomly recruited but volunteered to participate. That means it’s possible that those with early maturing patients were overly represented, but Herman-Giddens said it’s unlikely boys in the study were different from those in the general U.S. population.
She said the research methods weren’t perfect but that they’re the best to date. She also stressed that the results shouldn’t be used to establish a “new normal” for the start of puberty in boys.
“Just because this is happening doesn’t mean this is normal or healthy,” the researcher said.
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