A number of recent reports suggest that the average age at menarche of US girls has declined over the past 20 years. Because the putative declines in the age at menarche are concurrent with increases in childhood body mass index (BMI), it has been suggested that these two trends may be causally linked. We examined differences in mean age of menarche in Fels Longitudinal Study girls who were born in six 10-year birth cohorts (1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s) and simultaneous cohort changes in mean BMI measured cross-sectionally at selected ages from 3-35 years (n = 371). Girls born in the 1980s had a mean age at menarche of 12.34 years, which was approximately 3-6 months earlier than that of girls born previously (P < 0.001). While the mean BMI values at ages 25 and 35 generally increased from the 1930s to the 1970s, the mean BMI during childhood and adolescence remained constant across the six birth cohorts. In summary, we found no evidence that the recent decline in the age at menarche in the Fels Longitudinal Study girls was reflected in concurrent increases in BMI at any point in childhood or adolescence. Conversely, girls born in the 1960s and 1970s have subsequently become heavier in young and mid-adulthood than were girls from earlier birth cohorts, without any concurrent change in the mean age at menarche over that time period. These two findings suggest that population-level shifts in BMI and the timing of menarche are largely independent, although sometimes coincident, processes.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.