Vuguin said research like this is important for doctors because they need to keep evaluating what "normal" development is. There is a difference between relatively earlier puberty and what doctors call "precocious puberty" -- which can have consequences such as stunted growth because the bones stop maturing earlier than normal.
Traditionally, Vuguin said, precocious puberty has been defined as signs of puberty -- including breast development -- before the age of 8 in girls. Doctors may use hormonal medications to treat it.
"But if you have, for example, an obese African-American girl who is developing breasts at the age of 7, that might be 'normal' now," Vuguin said. "I think there is starting to be a shift in how we're looking at this: Should we treat it, or let it be? It's complicated."
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on development during puberty.
Copyright © 2012 HealthDay. All rights reserved.