Girls starting puberty early soared during the Covid pandemic due to less active lifestyles, according to a new study.
The number of girls diagnosed with “precocious” puberty increased during lockdowns due to factors including increased screen time and less physical exercise, say scientists.
Precocious puberty is when children’s bodies begin to change into adult bodies too soon. They start to develop physical changes before the age of eight.
Covid has also been linked to diseases such as obesity, which is a known contributor to early puberty in girls.
The Italian study, published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, shows that the number of girls referred to pediatric endocrinologists for precocious puberty has increased “significantly” over the last two years.
Professor Mohamad Maghnie said: “Our study confirms the rise in precocious puberty diagnoses during Covid-19 and identifies contributing factors such as poor eating and exercise habits, too much screen time and impaired sleep.
“We found an increase in weight gain among girls diagnosed with precocious puberty during the pandemic, and rapid increase in body weight is associated with advanced pubertal development.”
The research team evaluated the incidence of precocious puberty before and after the Covid-19 pandemic in 133 girls from Italy.
They also studied the possible relationship between Covid-19 and pandemic-related lifestyle changes.
They found 72 cases of precocious puberty over four years before the Covid-19 pandemic and 61 cases alone between March 2020 and June 2021.
The researchers also found girls diagnosed with precocious puberty during the Covid pandemic tended to have higher body mass index (BMI) scores than girls who did not.
Those girls spent an average of two hours per day using electronic devices, and 88.5 percent of them stopped any physical activity.
Prof. Maghnie, of the University of Genoa, added: “The role of stress, social isolation, increased conflicts between parents, economic status and the increased use of hand and surface sanitizers represent potentially further interesting hypotheses as to why early puberty is increasing in youth.
“Although, the consequence of biological adaptation cannot be entirely ruled out.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker