Purpose of review: Here we examine the effect of puberty on components of human body composition, including adiposity (total body fat, percentage body fat and fat distribution), lean body mass and bone mineral content and density. New methods and longitudinal studies have expended our knowledge of these remarkable changes.
Recent findings: Human differences in adiposity, fat free mass and bone mass reflect differences in endocrine status (particularly with respect to estrogens, androgens, growth hormone and IGF-1), genetic factors, ethnicity and the environment. During puberty, males gain greater amounts of fat free mass and skeletal mass, whereas females acquire significantly more fat mass. Both genders reach peak bone accretion during the pubertal years, though males develop a greater skeletal mass. Body proportions and fat distribution change during the pubertal years as well, with males assuming a more android body shape and females assuming a more gynecoid shape. Pubertal body composition may predict adult body composition and affects both pubertal timing and future health.
Summary: Sexual dimorphism exists to a small degree at birth, but striking differences develop during the pubertal years. The development of this dimorphism in body composition is largely regulated by endocrine factors, with critical roles played by growth hormone and gonadal steroids. It is important for clinicians and researchers to know the normal changes in order to address pathologic findings in disease states.