A new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that boys are hitting puberty at a younger age than they had in every previous study on the matter. Although, most studies on the subject are considered suspect, the generally accepted average age for boys to hit puberty is 11.5. The new study finds that boys are getting to that station in life six months to two years early.
This mirrors a wide range of studies that have found girls to be growing breasts at younger ages. In fact, there is now a scientific consensus on it, even though it sounds like the type of thing no one should be having any sort of consensus on, scientific or otherwise. It is unclear what the cause of this is. Some have suggested that older studies were simply faulty, while other suggestions include diet, less physical activity and other environmental factors. But no one is exactly sure why children are hitting puberty at younger ages.
Frankly, as someone who has reached an age to be considered old by those currently in the thralls of puberty, I find all this kind of horrifying and icky. A feeling that is not particularly helped by this statement by Dr. Laura Bachrach, a professor of pediatric endocrinology at Stanford University:
It was an important study to do, and their methodology is improved over prior studies in that they based their assessment of puberty in boys on what I consider to be the gold standard: the size of the testicles
Continuing along that line, the study was done by about 200 different pediatricians using a device called an orchidometer to measure the testicle sizes of 4,131 healthy boys ages 6 to 16 across 41 states. An orchidometer is a string of 12 numbered oval wooden or plastic beads of increasing size that are compared against the size of the testicles.
That’s more than I’ve ever wanted to think, know, or say about little boys’ testicles.
But lest you think the study was determined solely by testicle size, the study also evaluated boys on the Tanner scale and pubic hair. The Tanner scale is a five-stage ranking system developed in a 40-year-old British study that became the textbook basis for measuring puberty despite the study’s methodology being called into question. Its findings were based on photographs of over 200 white boys in juvenile detention. Pubic hair is considered a late and unpredictable measure puberty.
Another interesting piece of information from the study is that there is a division on when boys hit puberty along racial lines. African-American boys began puberty over a year earlier than Caucasian or Hispanic boys, with African-American boys reaching the benchmark around shortly after age nine and Caucasian and Hispanic boys not reaching it until after age 10.
What does it all mean? No one knows. But it’s all very, very uncomfortable.