Health

Precocious puberty and covid, boom of cases in girls – Chronicle

Bologna, 23 March 2022 – Lo stress caused by isolation of the pandemic and a sedentary lifestyle could be the most likely causes of the boom in cases early puberty in girls. A study of the Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital took care of it, in collaboration with 4 other pediatric endocrinology centers, those of the Gaslini of Genoa, of the Federico II Polyclinic of Naples, of the pediatric microcitemic hospital of Cagliari and of the pediatric clinic of Perugia hospital. .
The cases of precocious or anticipated puberty observed in the semester March-September 2020 in Italy are more than doubled compared to the same period of 2019. In total, 338 cases were detected against 152 the previous year, with an increase of 122%.

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7-year-old teenage girls

The phenomenon mainly affected girls aged around 7. The study, published by Endocrine Connections, tries to shed light on the causes. Through telephone interviews with the patients’ families, the necessary data were collected to evaluate the possible predisposing factors.
Carla Bizzarri, pediatrician endocrinologist of the Child Jesus and coordinator of the study, states that “we have no explanation for this difference between the sexes. However, we do know that precocious puberty is much less common in boys than girls. “

Precocious puberty: what it is

The onset of sexual maturation before age 8 in girls and before age 9 in boys is identified as precocious puberty. It is counted among the rare diseases. In Italy it affects 1 to 6 births per 1000. The child’s body begins to transform into an adult ahead of time, with an acceleration of the development of sexual characteristics and a rapid closure of the bone growth cartilages: as a result of this process, children grow quickly in height, but then the peak wears off and as adults they have a lower than average stature.

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Premature puberty: 134% increase in girls

In the new study, the largest increase in cases was observed in girls (328 patients in 2020 against 140 in 2019, with an increase of 134%) and especially in the second half of the observation period (92 girls between March and May compared to 236 girls in the period between June and September 2020, with an increase of 156 %). On the other hand, there was no significant increase in cases in males (10 patients in 2010 against 12 in 2019).

Eating habits during the lockdown

In interviews with families of girls with precocious puberty regarding their eating habits and lifestyle, there was a significant increase in the use of electronic devices (PCs, tablets, smartphones) in 2020 compared to 2019.

Increased use of electronic devices

The increase in the overall weekly use of these devices is attributable to the introduction of the Dad, along with the persistence of their use for leisure in free time. A increased use of electronic devices, on the other hand, it was detected, already in the pre-pandemic period, in girls diagnosed with rapidly evolving precocious puberty in 2020.

Drastic reduction in physical activity

The first lockdown of 2020 also caused a drastic reduction in physical activity practiced by children and young people, due to forced domestic confinement. In particular, a more sedentary lifestyle was found in the rapidly evolving precocious puberty subgroup of 2020, which was already evident before the pandemic. With regard to eating habits, in the face of a greater sense of hunger in patients in 2020 reported by families, there is no significant increase in the use of white meat or “junk food”.

Post traumatic stress of the pandemic

Finally, more than half of the families of patients observed in 2020 reported changes in behavior (59%) and reported a significant increase in symptoms related to stress (63%). While it is not possible to define a sure causal link, the results suggest that a stressful event (such as the first lockdown in 2020) may have triggered an early activation.
There was a significant increase in behavioral and emotional disturbances following the closure of schools. In particular, a recent work by the Infantile Neuropsychiatry Unit of the Infant Jesus described a post-traumatic stress disorder due to quarantine or social isolation in 30% of the children observed.
“It has recently been seen that anxiety and a tendency towards social isolation in prepubertal girls are associated with an early pubertal onset.”

Diagnosis and treatment

If the diagnosis is made early – before the age of 8 – it is possible to use drugs to slow down puberty.

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