a1 Department of Anthropology, Durham University, UK
a2 Paediatric and Lifecourse Epidemiology Research Group, School of Clinical Medical Sciences (Child Health), University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Several studies have found relationships between early life factors (birth weight, length of gestation, height, weight, duration of breast-feeding, maternal age, social class, periods of infection, presence of adverse life events, and quality of housing conditions in childhood) and age at menarche but none has considered all of these factors in the same study. The follow-up study of the Newcastle Thousand Families birth cohort, established in 1947, provided age at menarche data collected retrospectively at age 50 from 276 women who returned self-completion questionnaires in 1997. Three main independent associations were observed: girls who experienced a shorter gestation, girls whose mothers were younger when they were born, and girls who were heavier at age 9 had earlier menarche. Birth weight, standardized for gestational age, was found to have different relationships with age at menarche depending upon how heavy or light a girl was at age 9. The results of this study support the hypotheses that conditions in fetal and early life are associated with the timing of menarche and that greater childhood growth is associated with earlier menarche. It is suggested that future work should focus on illuminating the mechanisms underlying these statistical relationships.