Abuse accelerates the physical growth and maturity of children, a new study warns.
Scientists say that young girls who are emotionally and physically abused hit puberty eight to 12 months earlier than their non-abused peers.
Sexual abuse in particular forces children to physically mature at a faster rate.
Premature physical development such as this has been linked to breast and ovarian cancers due to the increased exposure to the hormone estrogen over a longer period of time.
Additionally, early puberty is seen as a potential contributor to increased rates of depression, substance abuse, sexual risk taking and teenage pregnancy.
The study, conducted at Pennsylvania State University, compared the pubescent trajectories of 84 females with a sexual abuse history and 89 of their non-abused counterparts.
Working closely with nurses and Child Protective Services, the subjects were tracked from pre-puberty to full maturity via a system known as Tanner staging.
Tanner staging is a numeric index of ratings that corresponds with the physical progression of puberty.
The researchers looked at pubic hair and breast development as two separate markers for pubescent change.
The girls were placed on a numbered scale from one to five: one marked prepubescence and five marked full maturity.
The team found that girls with histories of sexual abuse were far more likely to transition into high puberty stages earlier than the girls who weren't abused.
They developed breasts about eight months earlier than the non-abused girls and pubic hair grew almost an entire year earlier.
'Though a year's difference may seem trivial in the grand scheme of a life, this accelerated maturation has been linked to concerning consequences, including behavioral and mental health problems and reproductive cancers,' said Dr Jennie Noll, director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network and a professor of human development and family studies.
Dr Noll explained that the body is timed so that physical and developmental changes occur in tandem.
This assures that as a child physically changes, he or she has adequate psychological growth to cope with the maturing.
'High-stress situations, such as childhood sexual abuse, can lead to increased stress hormones that jump-start puberty ahead of its standard biological timeline,' Dr Noll said.
'When physical maturation surpasses psychosocial growth in this way, the mismatch in timing is known as maladaptation.'
This is not the first study to look at the effects of sexual abuse on puberty in young girls. A 2013 Cornell University study found that only did sexually-abused girls reach puberty quicker, but they were also more likely to have emotional problems.
Researchers found that girls who reached puberty ahead of their peers were found more likely to be targets of peer sexual harassment and receive a high number of unsolicited comments on their bodies.
For those with histories of sexual abuse - about one in five girls in the US - these challenges and pressures may become a tipping point for emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety, the authors said.
The researchers for the current study believe they were able to accurately rule out other variables that may have aided in accelerated puberty.
They believe the findings add to the current body of work highlighting the role of stress in puberty, and hope it will lead to increased preventative care and psychosocial aid to young women facing the effects of early maturation.
Abuse accelerates puberty in children: Kids who experience sexual abuse develop a year earlier than their non-abused peers Mary Kekatos Dailymail.com 7 March 2017
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