Background: Adolescence is characterized by marked psychosocial, behavioural and biological changes and represents a critical life transition through which adult health and well-being are established. Substantial research confirms the role of psycho-social and environmental influences on this transition, but objective research examining the role of puberty hormones, testosterone in males and oestradiol in females (as biomarkers of puberty) on adolescent events is lacking. Neither has the tempo of puberty, the time from onset to completion of puberty within an individual been studied, nor the interaction between age of onset and tempo. This study has been designed to provide evidence on the relationship between reproductive hormones and the tempo of their rise to adult levels, and adolescent behaviour, health and wellbeing.
Methods/Design The ARCHER study is a multidisciplinary, prospective, longitudinal cohort study in 400 adolescents to be conducted in two centres in regional Australia in the State of New South Wales. The overall aim is to determine how changes over time in puberty hormones independently affect the study endpoints which describe universal and risk behaviours, mental health and physical status in adolescents. Recruitment will commence in school grades 5, 6 and 7 (10–12 years of age). Data collection includes participant and parent questionnaires, anthropometry, blood and urine collection and geocoding. Data analysis will include testing the reliability and validity of the chosen measures of puberty for subsequent statistical modeling to assess the impact over time of tempo and onset of puberty (and their interaction) and mean-level repeated measures analyses to explore for significant upward and downward shifts on target outcomes as a function of main effects.
Discussion The strengths of this study include enrollment starting in the earliest stages of puberty, the use of frequent urine samples in addition to annual blood samples to measure puberty hormones, and the simultaneous use of parental questionnaires.