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‘Early puberty’ on rise due to diet, environment

The number of children diagnosed with early puberty has increased by more than 400 percent in four years.

Changes in diet and exposure to environmental hormones were blamed for the sudden increase in the disorder.

According to the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, the number of children diagnosed with precocious puberty was 28,000 in 2010, about 4.4 times 6,400 in 2006. The number of those treated for the condition rose 4.7 times during the same period and the amount of annual national insurance coverage also increased 67.7 percent yearly from 2.3 billion won in 2006 to 17.9 billion won in 2010.

Females outnumbered males experiencing early puberty ― making up over 92.5 percent of the total.

According to the University of Michigan’s definition, early puberty means having the signs of puberty (development of breasts, testes, pubic and underarm hair; body odor; menstrual bleeding; and increased growth rate) earlier than usual. Precocious puberty is puberty that starts before age eight in girls or nine in boys.

The university’s information also said that it was always hard to be different, and developing an developed body earlier than peers can put a lot of pressure on kids. Moreover, kids who grow a lot in height early stop growing earlier, and tend to be shorter as adults.

No one cause of the syndrome is yet verified but experts believe that the so-called westernized diet, social factors, and environmental contamination are factors.

Early detection of the disorder is key because once onset, it is difficult to stop. “If a girl develops breasts too early, complaining about pains, or boys have abnormally large testicles, one should visit the doctor immediately,” Ha Sang-mi, a HIRA official, said.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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