Early and late weight gain and the timing of puberty

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2006 Jul 25;254-255:140-5. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2006.04.003. Epub 2006 Jul 5.


Nutrition is an important regulator of the tempo of growth and obesity is usually associated with tall childhood stature and earlier pubertal development. Several longitudinal studies have demonstrated that timing of puberty is most closely linked to infancy weight gain: suggesting an early window for programming of growth and development. Earlier puberty in the UK MRC 1946 birth cohort was related to smaller size at birth and rapid growth between 0 and 2 years. Rapid early weight gain leads to taller childhood stature and higher insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) levels, possibly through early induction of growth hormone (GH) receptor numbers, and such children are also at risk of childhood obesity. In the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, rapid infancy weight gain was associated with increased risk of obesity at 5 and 8 years, with evidence of insulin resistance, exaggerated adrenarche and reduced levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Potentially the elevated IGF-I and adrenal androgen levels, increased aromatase activity and increased 'free' sex steroid levels consequent to lower SHBG levels could all promote activity of the GnRH pulse generator. In addition obese children have higher leptin levels, a proven permissive factor in initiating LH pulsatility. Obesity could also affect the rate of progression through puberty as nutrition and SHBG may act respectively as an accelerator and brake on peripheral sex steroid action. Early weight gain and early pubertal development might also be associated with loss of the pubertal growth spurt perhaps through obesity-related suppression of GH secretion. Trans-generational recurrence of low birth weight, early catch-up weight gain, earlier menarche, and shorter adult stature have been observed in women, and could contribute to the strong heritability in age at menarche.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Body Height / physiology
  • Child
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology
  • Growth and Development / physiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Menarche
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Puberty / physiology*
  • Weight Gain / genetics
  • Weight Gain / physiology*