Developmental experts have been writing about it for years. The age of onset of puberty has been decreasing steadily over the past two decades, now launching children into adolescence at around 8 to 13 for girls and 9 to 14 for boys. Puberty at 8 years old? In the third grade? What is causing this trend in industrialized countries? According to Dr. Fran Ebling of the British Society for Endocrinology, the onset of puberty has never been steady at around age 14 in the Middle Ages, increasing to 17 during the 19th century, and has falling back ever since. Puberty, of course, signals the start of cycles of reproduction, but why should it change over time?
Experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics tell us that the age of onset is controlled by the availability of fat stores in the body. Enough fat in the body signals the brain that there would likely be enough food and nourishment available if reproduction were to happen. In a way, our improved access to food and nutrition has caused this change over the past 20 years. It’s a mixed blessing, our kids may have access to more food, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the food is nutritious, or that the secondary problem of obesity isn’t also leading to earlier puberty. This explains the physical side of the situation, but there is a definite social side to puberty as well.
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