The more studies on the consequences of Covid-19 multiply, the more certain trends are emerging. As New Scientist points out, for example, it seems that the virus has had notorious effects on the puberty of young girls. And more precisely, on the precocity of this one.
One of the latest studies, which comes from the German University of Bonn, focuses on a sample limited to patients at a particular medical center. Its results nevertheless deserve consideration: while between 2015 and 2019, the number of precocious puberties did not exceed ten girls there, it rose to 23 in 2020 then to 30 in 2021.
A trend confirmed by other observations: in the United States, at San Diego Children’s Hospital, the annual number of young girls affected has more than doubled since the pre-Covid era. In Turkey or Italy, similar results have also been observed.
At this stage, precocious puberty is still described as a rare phenomenon, since it only affects approximately one in 5,000 to 10,000 children (ie 0.01 to 0.02% of individuals). For reasons still unknown, girls are ten times more likely than boys to be affected; for reasons of proportionality, they are still today the first affected by this galloping increase in cases.
It’s not just about puberty starting earlier than average: scientists have shown that it is often linked to serious health problems (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer…). The mental health of young people affected can also be affected, with in particular anxiety attacks in boys and phases of depression in girls.
Stress, yes, but not weight gain
Stress appears to be one of the main factors of these early onsets, just like weight gain. The fact remains that if the successive confinements and the fear of Covid-19 have transformed our homes into nests of anxiety, scientists have not observed an increase in the body mass of children. Contrary to popular belief, the sedentary lifestyle imposed by the pandemic and the difficulty in eating a balanced diet would therefore not be taken into account in the increase in cases of advanced puberty.
On the other hand, the sometimes profound modification of sleep cycles is to be mentioned, as is the increase in the time spent in front of screens. It has been shown that young girls affected by precocious puberty have slept less since the pandemic, and that their sleep has been of lower quality than before the Covid.
On the other hand, it is far from certain that the virus is directly incriminated. Because if common symptoms have been found in individuals whose puberty has been precocious and in people affected by SARS-CoV-2 – in particular inflammation of the nasal cavity – this is far from enough to establish a connection between the two situations. It should be added that among the young girls affected by an early onset of puberty, many have apparently never been positive for Covid-19.
Since 1977, the date of the first studies available on the subject, the age of puberty has advanced by three months per decade, recalls New Scientist. The pandemic is therefore not the only element to be called into question, even if it may have helped to speed things up. A complete return to face-to-face schooling and a more ordinary life could also halt this development of precocious puberty, at least according to some specialists – who nevertheless use the conditional tense, conceding that they are only betting on the ‘coming.