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Age of puberty: Data from the United States of America: Review article

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In an attempt to determine whether the secular trend toward an earlier onset of puberty has continued over recent decades in the United States of America, published reports concerning the age of attainment of pubertal events have been reviewed. Such reports are very limited and vary in both design and inclusive ages of study subjects. Among females, two recent large cross-sectional studies indicate that fifty percent of females in the United States attain Tanner breast stage 2 at 9.5 to 9.7 years of age. This is younger than previously thought, although adequate earlier studies of girls in the United States are not available for comparison. These two studies also indicate that about 14% of girls attain Tanner stage 2 while 8 years of age; one study extends earlier reporting that about 6% exhibit onset of breast development while 7 years of age. There is no evidence that the age of menarche or the attainment of adult (Tanner 5) breast development has decreased over the past 30 years. The data also suggest an earlier onset of Tanner stage 2 pubic hair but no change in attainment of stage 5. Among males, pubic hair may be appearing at younger ages, but data are inadequate or too inconsistent to allow firm interpretation. The lack of standardization of genital criteria of pubertal onset in the male makes any conclusions regarding secular trends impossible. In summary, earlier secular trends over recent decades related to better health, improved nutrition or socio-economic status, or any putative influence by endocrine disrupters cannot be verified.

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Keywords: Age of onset of puberty; Tanner stages of puberty; menarche

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Department of Pediatrics, Penn State University College of Medicine, The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, PA 17033–0850 USA and 2: Division of Human Biology, Department of Community Health, Wright State University School of Medicine, Kettering, Ohio 45420–4014 USA

Publication date: February 1, 2001

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