Important Issues to Consider When Measuring Puberty

The appropriate measure(s) of puberty to use in a study must be "purpose-dependent" (Hayward, 2003). Indicators of puberty are correlated, but not equivalent, as each indicator captures a different aspect of the pubertal process (Brooks-Gunn & Warren, 1985; Graber et al., 1996). Each indicator involves limitation in how it is measured. For example, validity of Tanner self-ratings may vary by degree of body image disturbance (Hick & Katzman, 1999; Litt, 1999); and cross-sectional measurements of hormonal levels are difficult to interpret (Hayward, 2003). The ideal way to measure the pubertal process would be multiple indicators of puberty collected longitudinally.

It is also important to note that at different stages of puberty, the correlations between the various manifestations of puberty change dramatically (Angold, Worthman, & Costello, 2003). For example, as girls begin to cycle, age and Tanner stage may not be as correlated with FSH, LH, and estrogen, because their levels become primarily controlled by the menstrual cycle. Even though circulating hormone levels are the best available correlate of hormonal action in the CNS, self-report of breast development is a better measure of breast development than is circulating estrogen level (Angold et al., 2003). Therefore, researchers must consider the meaning of the pubertal indicator and the developmental range when designing studies involving puberty.

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