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Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2012 Jan 31;8(4):246-54. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2011.241.

Effects of obesity on human sexual development.

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Leipzig University Medical Center, IFB Adiposity Diseases, Stefanstraße 9c, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany.


Puberty is a period of physical and psychological maturation, with long-term effects on health. During the 20(th) century, a secular trend towards earlier puberty occurred in association with improvements in nutrition. The worldwide pandemic of childhood obesity has renewed interest in the relationship between body composition in childhood and the timing and tempo of puberty. Limited evidence suggests that earlier puberty is associated with a tendency towards central fat deposition; therefore, pubertal status needs to be carefully considered in the categorization of childhood and adolescent overweight and obesity. In the other direction, rapid early weight gain is associated with advanced puberty in both sexes, and a clear association exists between increasing BMI and earlier pubertal development in girls. Evidence in boys is less clear, with the majority of studies showing obesity to be associated with earlier puberty and voice break, although a subgroup of boys with obesity exhibits late puberty, perhaps as a variation of constitutional delay in growth and puberty. The possible mechanisms linking adiposity with pubertal timing are numerous, but leptin, adipocytokines and gut peptides are central players. Other possible mediators include genetic variation and environmental factors such as endocrine disrupting chemicals. This Review presents current evidence on this topic, highlighting inconsistencies and opportunities for future research.

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