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Obese boys may experience puberty later than peers

Study suggests onset of puberty may come earlier for overweight boys, later for obese boys

ANN ARBOR, Mich. —  Weight may affect the timing of puberty in boys, a new study led by University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital finds.

Compared with normal weight boys, overweight boys experienced earlier puberty while obese boys experienced later puberty, according to the findings that appear online today in Pediatrics.

“Our findings suggest that excess weight appears to have different effects on boys versus girls,” says lead author Joyce Lee, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor and pediatric endocrinologist at U-M’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and who is also with U-M's School of Public Health. “In girls, excess weight is associated with an earlier onset of puberty, but for boys we saw a mixed picture. Overweight boys had an earlier onset of puberty while obese boys experienced a later onset of puberty, compared with normal weight boys.”

Researchers reanalyzed a community-based sample of more than 3,600 boys of white, African-American, and Hispanic origin aged six to 16 in the U.S. using data from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“This is important information for pediatricians who are monitoring children for healthy growth and development. Pediatricians should consider the possibility that delayed puberty in boys may be due to obesity,” says Lee, who is also with Mott's Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit and the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

Lee emphasized that the boys in the study still experienced puberty within the normal age range. However, the new information about the relationship between excess weight and timing of puberty underscores the need for more studies to understand the biological differences leading to the onset of puberty for boys and girls.

Previous studies have found that adipose tissue may lead to excess estrogen production in boys. Lee and her colleagues speculate that greater estrogen production in the obese boys could be suppressing puberty for obese, but not overweight, boys.

Reference: “Timing of puberty in overweight versus obese boys,” Pediatrics, DOI 10.1542/peds.2015-0164.

Additional Authors: Richard Wasserman, M.D.; Niko Kaciroti, Ph.D.; Achamyeleh Gebremariam, M.S.; Jennifer Steffes, M.S.W.; Steven Dowshen, M.D.; Donna Harris, M.A.; Janet Serwint, M.D.; Dianna Abney, M.D.; Lynn Smitherman, M.D.; Edward Reiter, M.D.; Marcia E. Herman-Giddens, Dr.P.H.

Funding: This research was funded by Pfizer, Inc., the American Academy of Pediatrics, Genentech Center for Clinical Research and Education, Health Resources and Services Administration Maternal and Child Health Bureau (Grant UA6MC 15585), the Georgia Health Foundation and the American Academy of Pediatrics Research in Pediatric Practice Fund.

Disclosures: None


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