Breast cancer

14 December 2009

Birth weight, early weight gain may hasten puberty

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A relatively low birth weight and early-age weight gain may increase the likelihood of early puberty, hint findings from a German study. Earlier onset of puberty has been linked to certain cancers, high blood sugar and obesity.

The study, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests the onset of puberty may occur from 4 to 7 months earlier among boys and girls who weighed less than normal at birth and among those who rapidly gained weight from birth through the age of 2. Low birth weight and early rapid weight gain were both independently associated with younger age at the onset of the pre-pubertal growth spurt, younger onset of the peak spurt in height, and younger menstruation in girls, Dr. Anja Kroke, at Fulda University of Applied Sciences in Fulda, and her colleagues note.

The study involved 215 boys and girls who were part of an ongoing nutrition and growth study begun in 1985 by the Research Institute of Child Nutrition in Dortmund, Germany. For these youngsters, researchers had complete information on birth age and size, and had at least 5 weight and height measurements recorded between the ages of 6 and 13 years. From these measurements, Kroke's team determined that 53 children began their pre-pubertal growth spurt at an earlier age, 108 at a normal age, and 54 at a later age. In the earlier puberty age group, nearly 21 percent had a low birth weight; they weighed between 5.5 and 6.6 pounds at birth. (A normal birth weight is about 7.7 pounds).

By contrast, similar low birth weight occurred in only 10 percent of the normal puberty age group and just under 6 percent of the later puberty age group. In addition, about 42 percent of the earlier age group, versus about 20 and 19 percent of the normal and later groups, had rapid weight gain from birth through the age of 2 years. Kroke's team calls for further investigations to identify the mechanisms by which birth and early life factors affect puberty onset, particularly in light of the increased risk for breast and testicular cancers, blood sugar disorders, and obesity associated with earlier puberty. - (Reuters Health, December 2009)


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Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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