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Objectives

This study considered the association between sexual maturation and adiposity in children and adolescents, and examined the contribution of sexual maturation to ethnic differences in total and depot-specific body fat.

Methods

The sample included 382 White and African American 5–18-year-olds. Body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC) and sexual maturity status (breast/genital and pubic hair stage) were assessed in a clinical setting. Total body fat (TBF) was measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and abdominal subcutaneous (SAT) and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) were measured by magnetic resonance imaging. Analysis of covariance adjusted for age was used to examine the association between sexual maturity status and adiposity, and linear regression adjusted for age was used to examine the influence of sexual maturation on ethnic differences in adiposity. Analysis of VAT also controlled for TBF. Significance was accepted at P < 0.05.

Results

Breast/genital stage was significantly associated with BMI, WC, TBF, and SAT in girls of both ethnic groups and in White boys. Breast stage was associated with VAT. Stage of pubic hair was significantly associated with TBF and VAT in White girls only. In girls, sexual maturation attenuated the ethnic effects on BMI and WC, but the ethnic effect in VAT persisted. In boys, sexual maturation did not attenuate ethnic differences on VAT and did not predict WC or SAT. Sexual maturity status independently explained variance in adiposity in girls only.

Conclusions

Sexual maturity status is an important determinant of pediatric adiposity and attenuates ethnic differences in girls' adiposity. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 25:473–479, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.