The aim of our study was to evaluate the age of the onset of pubertal characteristics in a population of Northern Italy and to compare our data with the pubertal staging scale defined by Tanner in 1976. These observations may help us to verify if even in Italy there is a positive secular change in sexual maturation, as has been observed in many European countries. We studied 3510 children (1868 males and 1642 females) aged 6-15 years, born between 1983 and 1996. In every subject sexual maturity was evaluated according to Tanner stages. We calculated the percentile distribution for ages of attainment of B2 and PH2 stages for females and G2, PH2 and testicular volume = or >4 ml (VT4) for males. In females the percentile values for B2 were: 3rd=8.1, 50th=10.5, and 97th=12.6 years. In males the percentile values for G2 and VT4 were: 3rd=8.8 and 9.1 years respectively, 50th=11 years, and 97th=13.4 and 13.3 years respectively. 3rd, 50th, and 97th centiles for pubic hair stage 2 were 8.1, 10.6 and 12.6 years for females and 8.8, 11.2 and 13.4 years for males. For all stages an earlier pubertal development was seen in comparison with Tanner data. One hundred-twenty-five girls had already reached menarche. Median (interquartile range) age at menarche was 11.9 (11.4-12.4) years showing a decrease compared with Tanner values. Our data clearly demonstrate a positive secular trend in pubertal development and point out the need of having updated references values of the timing of sexual maturation for the whole Italian population.