Children aren't starting puberty younger, medieval skeletons reveal

phys.org | 2/12/2018 | Staff
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Children are entering puberty younger than before, according to recent studies, raising concerns that childhood obesity and hormone-contaminated water supplies may be to blame. However, our archaeological research suggests that there's nothing to worry about. Children in medieval England entered puberty between ten and 12 years of age – the same as today.

Puberty is divided into five clinical stages, with pre-puberty at stage one and onset (or thelarche) at stage two. Menarche (a girls first period) occurs at stage three. The age at which a child enters puberty (stage one) varies. Today, puberty onset occurs between the ages of ten and 14 in girls and 12 to 16 in boys, with some ethnic groups starting around a year earlier. The end of puberty, or full maturation, is reached by 13-17 years for girls, and 15-18 years for boys.

Understanding - Timing - Puberty - Sources - Data

Our understanding of the normal timing of puberty comes from historical sources and is measured using data for the age of menarche.

A girl's first period is a significant milestone in her development, but it is a highly variable and environmentally fragile indicator of maturation. Today, menarche starts at a median age of 12.5 years in the UK, with 2-3% of girls experiencing menarche at ten.

England - Revolution - Sources - Menarche - Years

In England, just before the industrial revolution, historical sources suggest menarche occurred between 12-14 years. By the 1840s, girls had their first period between 14-17 years. While we have a rich record for ages of menarche, there are no written sources to tell us when children in the past first entered puberty.

To understand the natural blueprint for the onset of puberty, we need to look further back in time, to the bodies of girls and boys growing up before the industrial revolution and the nutritional challenges of the early 20th century. We need to look to medieval England.

In our...
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