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Start of Puberty Is Related to Expected Adult Height

Start of Puberty Is Related to Expected Adult Height

February 20, 2019

Medical Research

The Times of Israel – How does a child’s body know when it’s time to mature and to start puberty? The parents’ height may hold the key to an explanation, according to a new study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

A new study conducted by Dr. Yehuda Limony and Prof. Michael Friger of BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, in collaboration with Slawomir Koziel of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Wroclaw, Poland, affirms that the time in which puberty signs begin might have less to do with genetics. The paper, “Association Between the Onset Age of Puberty and Parental Height,” was published last month in the PLOS ONE journal.

The findings revealed that the age at which a child begins to show signs of pubic hair, and for girls, breasts and menstruation, is linked to the child’s “height gap”, or the gap between the child’s height percentile relative to their age group and their expected final adult height (as measured by the parents’ percentiles of height), according to BGU.

“Our findings mean that the age a child reaches puberty is not set genetically,” says Dr. Limony. “Rather, the body responds to the child’s individual growth needs. When a ‘tall’ child appears headed for an adult height that would make them much taller than their parents, they may hit puberty earlier than their peers in order to stop the growth process earlier and ensure that their final (adult) height is in the ‘target’ range.

“The opposite is also true: ‘Short’ children (as compared to their parents) do not hit puberty until later than the population average because the body is giving the child extra time to grow, in order to reach his or her parents’ height.”

The study analyzed data from two separate groups of Polish and Israeli children. The Polish group, which was comprised of 335 children, ages 8 to 18, were analyzed in annual intervals from 1961 to 1972.

The Israeli group was comprised of 170 children, who had been referred to an endocrinology clinic in southern Israel between 2004 and 2015 for having either a normal but below average stature, a short stature, an early puberty, or a late puberty. The children and their parents were measured periodically over a period of 18 months.

“A child who hits puberty earlier than their peers, but at a time that is consistent with this height gap, should be considered ‘healthy,’ or at least less suspected as having a pathological precocious puberty,” Dr. Limony says, adding that the research could change the way health officials worldwide determine whether the timing of the beginning of puberty in individuals is problematic or not.

“We believe that using this model, or similar ones, will reduce the use of unnecessary diagnostic procedures while also explaining the emergence of early- or late-onset puberty,” says Dr. Limony.

Read more on The Times of Israel website >>