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Early Puberty Predicts Depression and Antisocial Behavior in Early Childhood

12/26/2017

It is well established that girls who mature earlier than their peers face an increased risk of developing depression and antisocial behaviors during adolescence.  A new study in the January 2018 issue of Pediatrics, "Age at Menarche, Depression, and Antisocial Behavior in Adulthood," (published online Dec. 26) shows that these problems persist into early adulthood, far longer than documented in any previous research. The study followed 7,802 women over a fourteen-year span, and tracked their experiences with depression and antisocial behaviors (such as stealing, breaking and entering, and selling drugs). Compared to later maturing peers, girls who started their periods early were more likely to experience symptoms of depression and antisocial behaviors not just during adolescence, but also as young adults (roughly age 28). The magnitude of the early puberty effect was similar in adolescence and adulthood, suggesting that adolescent distress did not wane even after girls aged into adulthood.  Researchers conclude that pediatricians and adolescent health care providers should be aware of the increased mental health risks associated with earlier puberty and be sensitive to the duration of its effects.

Editor's Note: A commentary, "When Age-Based Guidance Is Not Enough: The Problem of Early Puberty," will be published in the same issue.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds