Puberty is a rite of passage when girls and boys transform physically into adults capable of reproduction. Puberty is the most accelerated growth period in human life other than babyhood. It begins between the ages of 8 and 13 for girls, and 10 and 15 for boys. It is a vulnerable stage for developing sexual organs. Environmental and nutritional factors during the prenatal, postnatal and early childhood phases of life have far reaching impacts on the development of puberty.
Nutrition plays a vital role in the development of puberty. Nutritional factors encompass diet, environmental exposures to toxins or pesticides that may be consumed, life-style such as exercise or the lack of it, and economics as this affects the availability food and other nutritional resources. Genetic background can be an indicator of the likelihood of susceptibility to external influences that promote an early onset of puberty.
Young girls are especially sensitive about body image during puberty. Some starve themselves in an effort to be skinny, causing them to become anorexic. Young adults suffering from anorexia, chronic malabsorption or systemic illnesses may experience a delay starting puberty due to malnutrition.
Fetal and Early Postnatal Growth
Fetal and early postnatal growth failure may negatively affect the development of puberty. Girls with a low birth weight start puberty earlier and have fewer follicles in their ovaries and mature abnormally, according to research by Professor H.A. Delemarre-van-de Wall of the Institute for Endocrinology and Metabolism at VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
His research also assessed boys with low birth weight as starting puberty late and with impaired testicular function and decreased testosterone levels. Delemarre-van-de Wall's research paper, "Factors Affecting Onset Puberty," was published in 2002 in the journal Clinical Pediatric Endocrinology.
Obesity in girls triggers early puberty. Obese girls develop breasts earlier and also start menstruating earlier. This is speculated to be the result of an increased level of hormones which are stored in the fat cells. This can be compounded by additional health problems such as teenage depression due to being overweight and cancer.
Environmental stress can be a catalyst for early puberty. These stresses include chemicals found in pesticides that disrupt the endocrine system, growing up without the biological father, and childhood abuse. Other stresses include an unhealthy lifestyle characterised by too much junk food and not enough exercise. Children today eat fewer fruits and vegetables than their relatives from previous generations which also can contribute to the early onset of puberty.