A recent study shows that little girls are reaching puberty at an extremely young age:
The changes in Kiera’s body scared her parents. Though the 8-year-old seemed her usual chipper self, she’d started to develop headaches and acne. More alarming to her mom, Sharon, were the budding breasts on Kiera’s thin little chest. “I thought, she’s too young,” remembers the Pittsburgh mom. “She’s still fearful about sleeping by herself. An 8-year-old just isn’t mature enough to handle this.” For Kiera, whose last name is being withheld to protect her privacy, it was all so embarrassing. None of her friends seemed to be experiencing what she was. When they asked about the acne and her expanding chest, Kiera was evasive. “I didn’t want to tell them what was going on,” says the Pittsburgh girl, now age 9. “So I had to kind of lie to them.”
When Kiera’s parents took their daughter to the doctor, he assured them that nothing was wrong with the girl. Kiera was simply starting puberty early.
As it turns out, puberty at age 7 or 8 isn’t so unusual these days. A new study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, shows that more American girls are maturing earlier and earlier. Typically, U.S. girls hit puberty around age 10 or 11.
Exactly what this shift means for girls isn’t clear yet — either on a group or individual level. But there are budding concerns. For instance, studies have linked an early start to menstruation with an elevated risk of breast cancer. And other research has shown that girls who go through puberty early tend to have lower self-esteem and a poor body image. They are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors which can result in unplanned pregnancies, experts say. The study revealed a surprisingly large bump in the number of girls going through puberty between the ages of 7 and 8. For example, the researches found that 10 percent of 7-year-old white girls had some breast development as compared to 5 percent in a study published in 1997. Similarly, 23 percent of the 7-year-old black girls had started puberty as compared to 15 percent in the 1997 study.
Nobody’s sure what is driving the declining age of puberty. But the rise in obesity could be at least partly to blame, says the study’s lead author, Dr. Frank Biro, director of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Back in the 1700s, girls didn’t start to menstruate till they were 17 or 18, Garibaldi says. That had a lot to do with malnutrition. The assumption is that the steady decline in age since then has to do with more abundant food.
There may be other environmental factors at work, too, says Dr. Stanley Korenman, an endocrinologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
For example, Korenman says, environmental exposure to estrogens in plastics, chemicals and foods has been going up. “And estrogens do stimulate breast development,” he adds.
Until we know what the cause is, the best way to slow puberty may be to “start living green,” says Biro. “It may help for families eat together and to consume well-balanced diets. Regular physical activity may help, too.” Another finding from the study may back that concept up. The rate of early puberty was much lower in the San Francisco group: 7 percent among white 7-year-olds from northern California versus 14 percent among Ohioans of the same age. Among black 7-year olds, 27 percent of Californians hit puberty early as compared to 31 percent of the New Yorkers.
Wow. This is crazy. All those hormones and steroids they’re injecting into food….please parents, watch what you are feeding your children. This sh*t is real…
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