Pubertal maturation in girls and the relationship to anthropometric changes: pathways through puberty

J Pediatr. 2003 Jun;142(6):643-6. doi: 10.1067/mpd.2003.244.


Objective: Patterns of pubertal maturation may have an impact on several risk factors associated with adult morbidity and mortality, such as obesity. We examined the relationship of the initial manifestation of puberty in girls with anthropometric measures, as well as age at menarche.

Methods: White females (n = 1166, ages 9 and 10 at intake) were followed with annual visits for 10 years. Physical examinations included height, weight, skinfold thicknesses, and pubertal maturation assessment.

Results: During the course of the study, 443 of 859 eligible females (51.6%) were observed to have asynchronous maturation in the development of puberty, that is, initial areolar/breast (thelarche pathway) or pubic hair (adrenarche pathway) development, without development of the other characteristic. Using a longitudinal regression model, significant interactions were noted between initial pubertal manifestation and years since onset of puberty on the following outcomes: sum of skinfolds thickness, percent body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index (BMI). However, age of onset of pubertal maturation was the same in the 2 groups (10.7 years). Females in the thelarche pathway had earlier menarche (12.6 vs 13.1 years) as well as greater skinfolds, body fat, and BMI at the time of menarche. Females in the thelarche pathway also had greater body fat and BMI 1 year before puberty and throughout puberty compared with those in the adrenarche pathway.

Conclusions: Females who enter puberty through the thelarche pathway, as compared with the adrenarche pathway, had greater sum of skinfold thicknesses, BMI, and percent body fat 1 year before the onset, as well as throughout, puberty. Because larger body composition and earlier age of menarche of females in the thelarche pathway parallel the epidemiologic profiles of women who are obese or at risk for obesity, these females may be at greater risk for adult obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anthropometry
  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast / physiology
  • Child
  • Female
  • Genitalia, Female / physiology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Puberty / physiology*
  • Sexual Maturation / physiology*
  • Skinfold Thickness