The incidence of early puberty, especially in girls, increased 3.6 times during the Covid lockdown, a study by researchers at a Pune-based hospital has found. The exact cause is not known but the possible reasons for idiopathic central precocious puberty in children as young as eight-nine during the pandemic are many, including stress, increased use of mobile phones, and also sanitizers, researchers at the Jehangir Hospital said.
In the study, published in the Journal of Paediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism recently, researchers found that 155 (5.1 percent) of the 3,053 referrals to the hospital were related to precocity, as opposed to 59 (1.4 percent) of 4,208 before the pandemic.
Details of the study
The researchers revealed that referrals at the hospital for ‘precocious puberty’ (children physically turning into adults too soon) surged 3.6 times during the pandemic, with kids as young as 8-9 years old showing signs of maturity much earlier than expected, including early menstruation. The findings match trends observed in other countries. One Italian study, for example, reported a 108 percent increase in referrals for suspected precocious puberty during the country’s COVID lockdown in 2020.
The researchers at Jehangir hospital used two groups for the study, the pre-COVID lockdown group (Group 1) spanning September 1, 2018, to February 29, 2020, and a Group 2 which spanned the period between March 1, 2020, and September 30, 2021. During the COVID lockdown period, out of 3,053 patients at our pediatric endocrinology center, 155 patients (146 girls and nine boys) were referred for precocious puberty (5 percent), significantly higher than referrals during the pre-COVID period, and just 59 patients (54 girls and five boys) out of 4,208 (just over 1 percent).
Doctors suspect that the increased use of mobile phones, late sleeping hours, stress, anxiety, and depression, all are known to cause precocious puberty and all these factors have been prevailing during the lockdown. Since sanitizers were extensively used during the lockdown, it is possible that increased exposure to triclosan may have stimulated early puberty in children. However, more studies are required to confirm this association.
The pandemic has also led to a more sedentary lifestyle with increased junk food consumption and increased obesity. All these factors together can lead to early puberty and future complications related to it. Another doctor suggested that the increased use of sanitizer has led companies to make them more appealing with a pleasant odor. They hence use chemicals like phthalate which may lead to hormonal imbalance. Some studies have also found that children with a vitamin D deficiency may be more prone to developing early puberty.