Puberty in girls delayed with alcohol, tobacco use

September 15, 2010 By Emily Paulsen, Health Behavior News Science

The list of possible health effects from an early introduction to alcohol and tobacco use has just gotten longer. A new study suggests that early drinking and smoking might delay onset of puberty in girls — but the operative word is “might.”

Puberty can start as early as age 7 or 8, but most start to develop breasts, the first sign of , between ages 9 and 13.

Late puberty in girls can have wide-ranging health effects. When puberty begins past age 13, girls might not grow as tall and their bones might not become as strong. Girls who reach puberty late have an increased risk of infertility and miscarriage and often report psychological stress.

Previous animal studies have shown that exposure to alcohol and can affect hormone levels, which in turn can delay sexual development. However, researchers have not investigated the association extensively in humans or in young girls specifically.

For the new study Jennifer Peck, Ph.D. and her colleagues at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City used data from previously conducted interviews with 3,106 girls between ages 11 and 21. The girls were asked about when they started using alcohol and tobacco and the age at which they first noticed signs of sexual development.

Less than 3 percent of the girls reported alcohol or tobacco use at early ages, but those girls were likely to notice signs of later than the girls who had not reported early alcohol or .

“What catches the eye in the study — the strongest association we observed — was that girls who reported pre-pubertal alcohol use had four times the odds of late breast development compared to girls who did not use alcohol,” Peck said. The study appears online in the .

According to a 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on risk behaviors in youth, 21 percent of high school students drink and 10 percent smoke cigarettes before they reached the age of 13.

Phyllis Ellickson, Ph.D., an expert on early with RAND, said the new study raises more questions than it answers. Because the research relies on data from a snapshot in time rather than following individuals over several years, she said it “doesn’t let us sort out the timing question: Does early substance abuse come before delayed development or does delayed development come before early substance abuse? Because the data are limited in scope, we can’t tell if even these very modest relationships are attributable to other factors, such as body weight, nutrition or genetics.”

Still, Ellickson said, “The bottom line is that the study raises an important issue that merits rigorous examination.”

More information: Peck JD, et al. Socio-environmental factors associated with pubertal development in females: the role of prepubertal tobacco and alcohol use. J Adol Health online, 2010.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Just a few minutes of light intensity exercise linked to lower death risk in older men

February 19, 2018
Clocking up just a few minutes at a time of any level of physical activity, including of light intensity, is linked to a lower risk of death in older men, suggests research published online in the British Journal of Sports ...

Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are not associated with risk of heart attacks

February 16, 2018
New research from the University of Southampton has found no association between the use of calcium or vitamin D supplementation and cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.

Women who clean at home or work face increased lung function decline

February 16, 2018
Women who work as cleaners or regularly use cleaning sprays or other cleaning products at home appear to experience a greater decline in lung function over time than women who do not clean, according to new research published ...

Study shows options to decrease risk of motor vehicle crashes for adolescent drivers

February 16, 2018
Adolescents who receive comprehensive and challenging on-road driving assessments prior to taking the license test might be protected from future motor vehicle crashes, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study ...

Being a single dad can shorten your life: study

February 15, 2018
The risk of dying prematurely more than doubles for single fathers compared to single mothers or paired-up dads, according to a study of Canadian families published Thursday.

Keeping an eye on the entire ageing process

February 15, 2018
Medical researchers often only focus on a single disease. As older people often suffer from multiple diseases at the same time, however, we need to rethink this approach, writes Ralph Müller.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.