Children who grow up in poorer homes are more likely to experience puberty earlier than their peers, said an Australian study on Wednesday.
The study, published by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), found that boys in disadvantaged homes were four times as likely to being puberty at age 10 or 11, while girls were twice as likely, Xinhua news agency reported.
Researchers surveyed the parents of 3,700 children who were part of the Growing Up Australia programme on how their children were maturing and the age at which they started to show signs of puberty.
Ying Sun, a visiting academic at the MCRIs from China and lead author of the study, said 19 and 21 per cent respectively of all boys and girls surveyed showed signs of puberty at age 10 or 11 but boys from disadvantaged home were 4.2 times more likely to be part of that group than boys from a favourable background.
She said the difference could be attributed to the bodies of children from poorer families perceiving themselves to be in a dangerous environment.
"I look at it as an evolutionary point," Sun told Xinhua.
"I think humans are very sensitive to our early childhood environment… and when we feel we are in a dangerous environment our body tells us to fasten our speed of maturation to produce more kids to ensure our genes are passed on to the next generation."
The research has prompted concerns for children growing up in lower socio-economic areas, with early puberty being linked to a series of health complications later in life.
"Early maturation not only links with emotional, behavioural and social problems during adolescence, it also carries several risks for later life such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and especially reproductive tract cancers, that is the most important thing," Sun said.
Researchers were able to identify children from disadvantaged homes by gathering data on the annual income going into the household where they were raised.