An often over-looked population in global public health includes very young adolescents (VYA), including their transitions from early puberty into adolescence. This includes minimal existing evidence about social and physiological changes they experience maturing within different cultural and economic contexts, and the unique challenges they face for a healthy transition into young adulthood. We conduct research focused specifically on the pubertal transition of girls and boys globally, including the impact of menstruation and other bodily changes on their sense of wellbeing, their access to education and their experiences of violence and peer pressures.
The global puberty research agenda has two key objectives: 1) to expand the evidence available on pubescent boys and girls globally, and 2) to utilize this learning for developing educational resources, in the form of puberty education books for girls and boys aged 10-14. The puberty resources are developed in collaboration with Grow and Know, a small non-profit focused on developing puberty books for girls (Growth & Changes) and boys (To Become a Young Man). The books aim to support and empower adolescent girls and boys to more confidently reach their potential through improved understanding about their developing bodies, health and education.
Girls in Madagascar receive new copies of the latest Grow and Know book, in collaboration with Project Jeune Leader.
To date, we have developed girls’ and boys’ puberty books in a diverse range of global contexts including Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Madagascar, Cambodia and Pakistan. A new girl’s puberty book is currently underway in Kenya in partnership with TROCAIRE. In each of these settings, government ministries and policymakers are engaged throughout the book development process as key partners, to ensure their support and collective buy-in. In all the countries with completed books, the Ministries of Education (and Health in select countries) have approved the books as supplementary readers for the curricula.
The Grow and Know books are grounded in the local social, cultural, and economic context, and capture the real perspectives of young people growing up today through the use of participatory research. Young peoples’ stories are incorporated alongside factual and appropriate guidance on the physiological and emotional changes of puberty and maturation. Local illustrators, translators, and publishing companies are all hired for the book development content. Mailman masters-level students have been involved in supporting several of the books including assisting with data collection and the development of the books.
Examples of research publications:
Sommer, M. (2011). An Early Window of Opportunity for Promoting Girls Health: Policy Implications of the Girls Puberty Book Project in Tanzania. Global Journal of Health Education and Promotion, 14(1).
Sommer, M., Ackatia-Armah, N., Connolly, S., & Smiles, D. (2015). A comparison of the menstruation and education experiences of girls in Tanzania, Ghana, Cambodia and Ethiopia. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 45(4), 589-609.
Sommer, M., Likindikoki, S., & Kaaya, S. (2014). Tanzanian Adolescent Boys’ Transitions Through Puberty: The Importance of Context. American journal of public health, 104(12), 2290-2297.
Blake, S., Boone, M., Yenew Kassa, A., & Sommer, M. (2017). Teaching Girls About Puberty and Menstrual Hygiene Management in Rural Ethiopia: Findings From a Pilot Evaluation. Journal of Adolescent Research, 0743558417701246.
Sommer, M. Structural factors influencing menstruating school girls’ health and well-being in Tanzania. (2012). Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education.
Ibitoye, M., Choi, C., Tai, H., Lee, G., & Sommer, M. (2017). Early menarche: A systematic review of its effect on sexual and reproductive health in low-and middle-income countries. PloS one, 12(6), e0178884.
Herbert, A. C., Ramirez, A. M., Lee, G., North, S. J., Askari, M. S., West, R. L., & Sommer, M. (2017). Puberty experiences of low-income girls in the United States: A systematic review of qualitative literature from 2000 to 2014. Journal of Adolescent Health, 60(4), 363-379.