Children From Poor Families Show Signs Of Puberty Faster; Health Risks Of Early Development

It’s not exactly a surprise that children from low-income families are at a disadvantage. The government-funded Head Start program in the United States attempts to reduce some of the inequalities when it comes to education, but how do children in poverty fare physiologically? And what can be done to ensure their health and wellbeing?

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Researcher Ying Sun, a visiting academic at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia, detailed a study she conducted looking at how income affected puberty rates in children in The Conversation. Using the country’s Growing Up in Australia study, the team asked 3,700 parents about signs of puberty observed in their children between the ages of eight and nine and 10 to 11. In girls, signs include developing breasts, pubic and armpit hair, menstruation and acne. Boys typically exhibit cues like increased facial and pubic hair, growth spurt, muscle growth and acne.

Researchers then compared the socioeconomic status, based on families’ annual income, education and occupations, of children who started puberty early versus those who didn’t. They found that roughly 19 percent of boys and 21 percent of girls started developing early, when they were 10 to 11 years old. The poorest males were four times as likely to hit puberty early as their advantaged counterparts. For females, the likelihood was double.

kid-1365105_1920 (1) Kids from low-income families more likely to develop earlier, which could have long-lasting health effects. Pixabay

Sun theorizes several reasons for the difference. One idea is that poverty makes the body anticipate stress frequently, which could change how the brain functions, impacting how reproductive hormones are regulated. Another thought is that fewer resources might actually change your genetics, triggering your reproductive hormones. Or, Sun believes that environmental or economic hardships could signal your body to start the reproductive process to ensure genes are passed on before they have the chance to die out.

Those who experience early puberty can have health problems later in life including emotional and behavioral problems as well as increased risk of obesity and heart disease.

While scientists still don’t understand how wealth can impact puberty, this new piece of research comes at a time when the debate about access to healthcare grows more divided. Last month, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cut $616 billion, in the next 10 years, from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program, which offers healthcare to lower income families, reports the Associated Press.

“It is an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us, the youngest, the oldest, the poorest, and hardworking people who need a little help to gain or hang on to a decent middle class life,” former presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton said in her commencement speech at Wellesley. “It grossly underfunds public education, mental health, and efforts even to combat the opioid epidemic.”

However, the White House believes slashing the budget is necessary, stating that more spending doesn't necessarily equal more enhancements. 

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“We’re not going to measure compassion by the amount of money that we spend, but by the number of people that we help,” said White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, according to the AP.

In the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik reports that over the past two decades, the number of uninsured children fell from 14 percent to less than five percent, however he says the proposed budget cuts would cause rates to hike once again.

See Also:

A Bitter Divorce Between Parents Can Have Lasting Health Effects On Children

Daughters From Single-Parent Homes More Likely To Be Obese, Says New Study

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