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Monday, 19 June, 2000, 08:14 GMT 09:14 UK
Girls reach puberty at eight
Children
Children are maturing much earlier
One in six girls show early signs of puberty by the time they are eight-years-old, researchers have found.

This compares to one in 100 girls a generation ago, the Observer newspaper reported.

The research carried out at Bristol University's Institute of Child Health tracked the development of 14,000 children from birth as part of their "Children of the Nineties" study.

It also found that one in 14 eight-year-old boys had pubic hair, an early indicator of puberty, compared with one in 150 boys of their father's generation.

The research showed that, from a sample of 630 girls, one in six had started to show early signs of puberty by the time they were eight.

It was the first study into puberty to take place in Britain since 1969.



These are important discoveries which should have a fundamental impact

Professor Jean Golding, Bristol University

Professor Jean Golding, director of the study, told the newspaper: "These are important discoveries which should have a fundamental impact on the way in which parents, teachers and policymakers deal with childhood and adolescence.

"It might be that these children are affected by hormonal changes in their body, or by feeling different to their friends."

Professor Golding said more research was needed before it could confidently be said that children were maturing earlier.

She said the previous research was probably unrepresentative as it focused exclusively on children living in a residential home.

However, she said: "One thing we know is happening is that children are putting on more weight in their early years - not so much due to bad diet, as to a lack of exercise.

"We also know that children who show signs of early puberty tend to be heavier at birth. It might be that these children tend to grow faster, and so mature earlier."

However, Dr Russell Viner, a consultant in adolescent medicine and endocrinology at Great Ormond Street Hospital and University College London Hospital, said although between 1900 and 1950, younger and younger girls had been showing the first signs of puberty, the figures appeared to have been fairly static since then.

A study in the early 1990s gave an average of between 12 and 13 years.

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