Environmental lead exposure and pubertal trajectory classes in South African adolescent males and females.Sci Total Environ. 2018 Jul 01; 628-629:1437-1445.ST
The effects of environmental lead exposure in the neuro-endocrine system have been shown to impact the maturation and tempo of puberty development in adolescents. In low and middle income countries very little is known regarding the detrimental health effects of childhood lead exposure with regard to the tempo of puberty development. To help address this gap in data, we examined the association between lead exposure and puberty progression in males and females. Study participants from the urban Birth to Twenty Plus (BT20+) birth cohort in Soweto-Johannesburg, South Africa with data for blood lead levels at age 13years, cord blood lead levels, pubic hair development and breast development in females, and pubic hair development and genital development in males, were included in this study. The sample comprised 1416 study participants (n=684 females). Pubertal development trajectory classes were defined using Latent Class Growth Analysis. Data were examined for (i) an association between cord blood lead levels and pubertal trajectory classes; and (ii) an association between blood lead levels at age 13years and pubertal trajectory classes. In females, there was an association between adolescent elevated blood lead levels (≥5μg/dL) and lower level of maturation at age 9years and slower progression of pubic hair and breast development (relative risk ratio (RRR)=0.45, p<0.0001; 95% CI (0.29-0.68)) and (RRR=0.46, p<0.01; 95% CI (0.27-0.77)), respectively. In males, elevated blood lead levels at birth were associated with slower tempo of pubic hair development (RRR=0.20, p<0.05). Findings from this study suggest a possible role for environmental lead in altering pubertal development in South African adolescents as shown by slower tempo of progression through the Tanner stages pubertal development in females and males. There were also gender-differences between the effects of prenatal and postnatal lead exposure during pubertal development.