Pubertal timing, neighborhood income, and mental health in boys and girls: Findings from the adolescent brain cognitive development study

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Abstract

Early pubertal timing is associated with youth mental health problems, with association amplified or mitigated by characteristics of the residential neighborhood. Yet, limited research simultaneously examines the roles of neighborhood context and biological sex in this association. This study fills this research gap by examining sex-specific associations between pubertal timing and neighborhood income with youth mental health problems (internalizing and externalizing symptoms) in a longitudinal cohort of early adolescents in the United States (US). Participants were 9201 youth aged 9 or 10 years from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study. Pubertal timing was the average of parent- and youth-reported pubertal status standardized within sex and age. Outcome variables were youths’ internalizing and externalizing symptoms assessed at 1-year follow-up via parent survey. We evaluated interaction effects between pubertal timing and neighborhood income in a series of sex-stratified linear mixed effect models, adjusted for family and personal sociodemographic characteristics. In girls, earlier pubertal timing was associated with more internalizing (β = 0.06, p < 0.001) and externalizing problems (β = 0.07, p < 0.001) at 1-year follow-up, not moderated by neighborhood income. In boys, earlier pubertal timing was associated with more externalizing problems among youth living in high-income neighborhoods, but not among those in low-income neighborhoods (interaction-p = 0.006). Results suggest that pubertal timing may affect youth mental health differentially in boys and girls, depending on the neighborhood contexts. These findings highlight the importance of both biological and social forces in shaping adolescent mental health and, thus, have public health and clinical implications for health promotion.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116220
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume334
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2023

Keywords

  • Neighborhood income
  • Pubertal timing
  • Sex difference
  • Youth mental health

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