Growth during childhood and adolescence occurs at different rates and is influenced by the interaction between genetic and environmental factors. Nutritional status plays an important role in regulating growth, and excess body weight early in life can influence growth patterns. Childhood obesity is a growing and alarming problem, associated with several short-term and long-term metabolic and cardiovascular complications. In addition, there is evidence suggesting that excess adiposity during childhood influences growth patterns and pubertal development. Several studies have shown that during prepubertal years obese children have higher height velocity and accelerated bone age compared to lean subjects. However, this prepubertal advantage in growth tends to gradually decrease during puberty, when obese children show a reduced growth spurt compared with lean subjects. Growth hormone (GH) secretion in obese children is reduced, therefore suggesting that increased growth is GH independent. Factors which have been implicated in the accelerated growth in obese children include increased leptin and insulin levels, adrenal androgens, insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1, IGF-binding protein-1 and GH-binding proteins. Excess body weight during childhood can also influence pubertal development, through an effect on timing of pubertal onset and levels of pubertal hormonal levels. There is clear evidence indicating that obesity leads to early appearance of pubertal signs in girls. In addition, obese girls are also at increased risk of hyperandrogenism. In boys, excess adiposity has been associated with advanced puberty in some studies, whereas others have reported a delay in pubertal onset. The existing evidence on the association between childhood and adolescence obesity underlines a further reason for fighting the epidemics of childhood obesity; that is preventing abnormal growth and pubertal patterns.
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