According to the latest research, boys are hitting puberty as much as two years earlier than they did in past decades and doctors are unable to explain the cause of such a significant change. The study was the first to take a large scale look at puberty in over 25 years and researchers were shocked by the results. They found that young men are showing the first signs of puberty between the ages of 9 and 10. In previous studies researchers found the average age to be closer to 11 years of age. The biggest change was seen in African American males who were showing signs of puberty at 9.1 years of age, followed by Hispanic males at the age of 10 years and white males at the age of 10.1 years. The fact that women are hitting puberty much earlier has been well documented but this is the first study to demonstrate that males are suffering the same effects. According to director of adolescent medicine Frank Biro, the study “does validate the perception that boys are maturing earlier than they did 30 years ago. The next piece is why, and we are starting to look at that more carefully.” For females, the common perception is that rising obesity rates are behind the early puberty trend as estrogen is stored in fat cells. In boys the connection is not as clear. In recent studies many boys classified as obese actually began puberty later than their normal weight peers. It is also more difficult to track puberty in males because most of the noticeable signs such as voice changes, growth spurts and facial hair don’t occur until the very end of puberty. The only initial sign is testicular growth which is often times so subtle as to go unnoticed. The next puzzle for doctors to investigate is what the long term health effects are of earlier puberty if any. Some doctors fear that earlier puberty could mean a higher risk of testicular cancer while others are considered with the social impact. Dr. Herman-Giddens warns “There is already a tremendous gap between sexual maturity and when the brain matures, and it’s probably getting ever greater.” He believes that this gap could lead to risky behavior.
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