Introduction: Earlier menarche is related to subsequent breast cancer risk, yet international differences in the age and tempo of other pubertal milestones and their relationships with body mass index (BMI) are not firmly established in populations at differing risk for breast cancer. We compared age and tempo of adrenarche, thelarche, pubarche, and menarche in a migrant study of Bangladeshi girls to the United Kingdom (UK) and assessed whether differences by migration were explained by differences in BMI.
Methods: Included were groups of Bangladeshi (n =168), British-Bangladeshi (n =174) and white British (n =54) girls, aged 5 to 16 years. Interviewer-administered questionnaires obtained pubertal staging; height and weight were measured. Salivary dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate concentrations >400 pg/ml defined adrenarche. Median ages of pubertal milestones and hazard ratios (HR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated from Weibull survival models.
Results: In all three groups, adrenarche occurred earliest, followed by thelarche, pubarche, and finally menarche. Neither median age at adrenarche (Bangladeshi = 7.2, British-Bangladeshi = 7.4, white British = 7.1; P-trend = 0.70) nor at menarche (Bangladeshi = 12.5, British-Bangladeshi = 12.1, white British = 12.6; P-trend = 0.70) differed across groups. In contrast, median age at thelarche (Bangladeshi = 10.7, British-Bangladeshi = 9.6, white British = 8.7; P-trend <0.01) occurred earlier among girls living in the UK. Compared with Bangladeshi girls, HRs (95% CI) for earlier thelarche were 1.6 (1.1 to 2.4) for British-Bangladeshi girls and 2.6 (1.5 to 4.4) for white British girls (P-trend <0.01), but were attenuated after adjustment for BMI (British-Bangladeshi = 1.1 (0.7 to 1.8), white British = 1.7(1.0 to 3.1); P-trend =0.20).
Conclusions: Thelarche occurred earlier, but puberty progressed slower with increasing exposure to the UK environment; differences were partially explained by greater BMI. The growth environment might account for much of the ethnic differences in pubertal development observed across and within countries.