Early onset puberty signs hitting more kids: Report

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Early onset puberty signs hitting more kids: Report

The number of children starting puberty early in Korea has increased threefold over the past five years, according to a report released Monday by the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service.

The number of people younger than 19 who experienced symptoms of early onset puberty increased to 66,395 last year, from 21,712 in 2009.

That figure stood at 28,251 in 2010, and continued to increase to 46,250 in 2011 and 55,333 the next year.

Early puberty, also called precocious puberty, is characterized by physical maturation - the growth of body hair or breast development - in children at an abnormally early age, typically before the third grade, which in Korea would be before 10 years old, according to the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service.

Girls are 10 times more likely to experience early onset puberty, the report said.

The data was made available at the request of Rep. In Jae-keun, from the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

In Korea, about 30.8 percent of children residing in Seoul experienced signs of early puberty, followed by Gyeonggi (28.3 percent) and Daegu (6.9 percent). The report indicated that bigger metropolitan cities are more likely to have higher percentages of children who mature faster than their peers when compared to smaller cities or rural areas.

By gender, girls accounted for 91.2 percent of children who experienced symptoms of early puberty, while boys represented just 8.8 percent.

Days of hospital treatment for symptoms related to early puberty rose to 351,539 days last year from 91,815 days in 2009.

Doctors say early treatment for the condition is important.

“Parents often depend on unauthorized treatments,” said Jo Seong-yoon, a pediatrician at Samsung Medical Center. “But by doing so, they pass the point where they can effectively treat the symptoms.”

Injections that are designed to inhibit hormones are the most common treatment.

While the reasons for the onset of early puberty remain largely unclear, a series of research and reports indicate that girls who have a high-fat diet or are obese are more at risk for early puberty.

Jo suggested that parents help their children maintain proper eating habits and a regular lifestyle to help them develop at the right pace.

However, Rep. In said that there were likely more children in Korea that the data did not take into account. “The report does not count those who get treatment at oriental medicine clinics or other medical centers,” she said. “Still, it’s important to take the figure seriously, because there are many cases in which young girls who experience early puberty are more violent and aggressive.”

She added that solutions for the increase should be determined on a national level. “The government and the Ministry of Health and Welfare should come up with measures to better treat those young children,” Rep. In said.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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