Background: The goal of this study was to determine associations between the age of first menstrual period (menarche) and adverse childhood experiences in a random community sample of New Zealand women. Previous reports have linked early menarche to absence of a live-in father figure and to family conflict, as well as genetic determination of early puberty and adiposity.
Method: Two groups of women randomly selected from the community on their responses to a mailed screening questionnaire on childhood sexual abuse (CSA) were interviewed in detail. Data about their childhood experiences, including age of menarche, were collected on two occasions, 6 years apart. Early menarche was defined as first menstruation occurring before the age of 12 years.
Results: Univariate analyses identified a number of adverse childhood experiences preceded early menarche, which was reported by 20.3% of this sample. These included low family socio-economic status, absence of father, a number of variables showing family conflict, poor relationships between the girl and either/both parents, a self-rated childhood personality style as a loner, childhood physical and sexual abuse. Sequential modelling showed parental rows, being a loner and the duration of CSA to be most important, although lack of a father and any CSA were each also independently associated with early menarche. No variables survived the modelling exercise as predictors of early menarche for those women who did not report childhood sexual abuse.
Conclusions: The identified variables statistically interacted with each other in a highly complex manner. The attempt to rank their importance was only partially successful, for methodological reasons (half the sample reporting CSA). Chronic or protracted CSA needs to be added to the list of factors associated with early menarche in future studies.