It is well known that early puberty in girls is associated with a myriad of psychosocial effects that make them vulnerable to depression and antisocial behavior during adolescence. Less known is how these effects play out over time and into adulthood.
Into this gap comes research from a new study that tracked the psychosocial effects of early puberty beyond adolescence and into adulthood to look at how long the psychosocial effects of early puberty may last.1
“Our study tracks girls through adolescence into their late 20s, far longer than other studies, and we see that girls who went through earlier puberty are still showing higher rates of depressive symptoms and antisocial behavior than their peers,” says Jane Mendle, PhD, associate professor, Department of Human Development, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and lead author of the study.
Not simply ‘growing pains’
To examine the associations of age at menarche with development and duration of depressive symptoms and antisocial behaviors, Mendle and colleagues collected and analyzed data on 7802 female participants taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). Conducted between 1994 and 2008, Add Health is a national survey study that assessed adolescent health and risk behavior in a large socioeconomically, ethnically, and racially diverse cohort.2
Data was collected by interviewing participants over 14 years (in 4 different time periods or waves) to determine the age at menarche (used as a proxy for pubertal development) and development and duration of depressive symptoms and antisocial behaviors. To assess depressive symptoms, participants completed the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) during the first and last time periods of the study. The CES-D is a self-report evaluation that measures cognitive, affective, and physiologic symptoms of depression experienced by the participant over the past week. Antisocial behaviors (ie, doing damage to property, stealing, breaking into building, selling drugs) were also assessed twice (during the first and last time periods).
The study found that the onset of menarche was about 12 years for most of the girls (31%) followed by age 13 (24%) and age 11 (19%), but ranged from 7 to 24 years. About 10% of girls reported age of menarche at age 10 or younger.