The secular changes in growth and maturation can be seen as indicators of socio-economic and health status. In most European countries the age of onset of puberty and of menarcheal age has been decreasing during the past few decades. The duration of puberty seems also to decrease, though few studies provide sufficient data to support this postulation. The four Dutch nationwide growth surveys are useful examples assessing the secular trend in pubertal development over the past 45 years. Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the secular changes. Environmental factors seem to be the most important. Recently, attention has been given to substances with oestrogen-like actions that are present in nutrients. The possible role of these substances in growth and maturation is discussed.