Most folks remember puberty – and not always in a good way. It can be an awkward stage of budding breasts, unwanted hair, acne and unexpected body odor. Puberty, when a child undergoes physical changes and becomes sexually mature, typically begins around age 8 in girls and age 9 in boys.
But imagine, say, a 6- or 7-year-old undergoing such changes? Studies are showing that the onset of puberty for both boys and girls is occurring earlier and earlier, a phenomenon defined as precocious puberty.
A study published in Pediatrics in 2010 found that among a population of 1,200 American girls, about 23 percent of African-Americans,15 percent of Latinas and 10 percent of Caucasian girls had begun puberty (marked by breast development) at age 7.
In 2012, another study published in Pediatrics found that puberty in American boys – measured by testicular enlargement and pubic hair growth – was beginning six months to two years earlier than what research in previous decades had documented, particularly among African-American children.