Early Puberty in Girls Linked to Obesity


If your young daughter experiences early puberty, she has an increased risk of obesity. Scientists from Kings College London have discovered 30 genes that control when girls begin puberty, and many of the genes also have a strong role in fat processing, which links early puberty to overweight and obesity.

Overweight girls more likely to enter puberty early

Previous research has shown that young girls who are overweight are more likely to begin their menstrual cycles earlier than girls who are of normal weight. Studies also note that early puberty puts girls at greater risk of diseases associated with hormones, such as breast cancer, and it has also been linked to behavioral problems.

Investigators at Kings College London were part of a large international consortium that evaluated more 100,000 women from the United States, Europe, and Australia. All together, the team found 30 new genes that control the age at which females sexually mature. Although puberty in women usually occurs between the ages of 11 and 14 years, onset is triggered if girls reach a weight of about 100 pounds, even if they are younger.


While many of the 30 genes are known to be involved in body weight regulation and fat metabolism, the scientists also found genes that have roles in hormone regulation, cell development, and other activities associated with puberty in females. The study results indicate that some women may inherit a susceptibility to gain weight and to enter puberty early.

“The findings give us clues on how intricately linked are different biological processes,” noted Massimo Mangino, who is from the Twin Research Department at King’s. His colleague Tim Spector, director of Twins UK cohort, pointed out that the study “shows the power of large genetic collaborations allowing us great insights into how puberty is triggered by precise amounts of body fat.”

The additional clues provided by this latest study of early puberty in girls and obesity will hopefully result in ways to change this scenario. Dr. Ken Ong, a scientist from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, emphasized that it is important to understand that lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, can modify the “common genetic factors” associated with early puberty and obesity.

Kings College London