By MIKE MCRAE

Among the laundry list of health problems COVID has inflicted on the world’s population, one of the more perplexing could be an increase in the number of girls experiencing what is known as idiopathic precocious puberty – abnormally early onset of puberty.

More than one study has spotted the spike in numbers during the early months of the pandemic of what is typically a rare condition, highlighting a potential link between the virus and a trigger for early adolescence.

Now a study presented at the 60th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting in Rome suggests it might not have anything to do with the infection at all.

Rather the time spent during lockdowns scrolling through smart devices for hours on end could be to blame.

Researchers from Gazi University and Ankara City Hospital in Turkey exposed 18 immature female rats to a spectrum of light predominantly emitted by our LED screens for relatively short or long periods each day, finding those bathed in the blue-tinged light for longer bouts showed the hallmarks of maturity sooner than the rest.

“We have found that blue light exposure, sufficient to alter melatonin levels, is also able to alter reproductive hormone levels and cause earlier puberty onset in our rat model. In addition, the longer the exposure, the earlier the onset,” says endocrinologist and lead author Aylin Kilinç Uğurlu from Gazi University.

Though far from a slam-dunk on the case of why more girls around the world might have hit puberty when they did during the pandemic, it’s a finding that should be taken seriously as we become increasingly reliant on personalized digital technology.

Statistically speaking, most of us start to experience the joys (and horrors) of puberty by age 12, smack in the middle of a bell curve that stretches anywhere from 9 to 14 in boys and 8 to 13 in girls.

Precocious puberty for girls is defined as signs of secondary sexual characteristics emerging before the age of eight. Just how many girls that encompasses is difficult to say with confidence as measures on the condition’s prevalence vary considerably around the world.

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