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Puberty starting earlier for young girls

Young girls

Photo: GettyImages

A recent article in the New York Times Magazine featured the story of a young girl who had begun to show signs of puberty at age six. She is far from alone.

In August 2010, a study published in Pediatricshowed that by age seven, 10 percent of white girls, 15 percent of Hispanic girls, 23 percent of Black girls, and two percent of Asian girls had started developing breasts. On the other hand, the average age of the first period has stayed fairly consistent over the years, decreasing only slightly from 12.8 to 12.5 years old. Still, starting puberty earlier leaves some girls open to certain physical and psychological risks.

Why is this happening?
Some cases of early puberty are normal, while some are diagnosable disorders such as central precocious puberty. In either case, many theories have emerged to explain the phenomenon.

Weight. There seems to be a connection between body-mass index and the timing of puberty. That is, girls who weigh more tend to start puberty earlier. But it’s more about fat tissue than the number of pounds on a scale. Girls with more fat have higher levels of leptin, a hormone that can lead to early puberty.

Environment. Some studies have shown that environmental chemicals can also cause bodies to mature early. These chemicals – known as “estrogen mimics” – include BPA, which is found in hard plastic and many other everyday products. More research is still being conducted to examine the effects of certain hormones and toxins.

Family stress. Traumatic experiences can also affect puberty age. Evidence suggests that girls who experience divorce at an early age, whose mothers have depression, or whose fathers are violent are more likely to enter puberty at a young age than other girls. One explanation is that high stress levels send signals to a young body that it should “grow up” and mature more quickly.

What can families do?
Some families have tried medication for their young girls, but many have possible side effects including increasing the risk of osteoporosis. Exercise has also been shown to help prevent early puberty for some girls. Beyond physical concerns, however, early puberty can often result in emotional challenges. Girls that develop early are more likely to have low self-esteem and higher rates of depression and eating disorders well into adulthood. Many become sexually active earlier as well, putting them at risk for sexually-transmitted diseases.

For these reasons, families are encouraged to focus not only on the physical changes experienced by these young girls, but on their psychological and emotional health as well. Sometimes that means learning to accept those changes no matter how ill-prepared a parent might be to deal with them. While in the search for a way to stop or slow down puberty, it may be equally as important not to pathologize the condition and make the young girl feel abnormal or unhealthy.

Most adolescents just want to fit in. Even if they know they’re different, with the right support, they can learn not to see their difference as a shortcoming.

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and Space.com, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit www.theradicalideas.com.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

Comments

  1. all the hormones put in the food, milk and vaccines

  2. ^exactly

  3. ^agreed

  4. and males?

  5. Why is this even considered an “epidemic”? It has such a negative connotation. Would we be saying the same thing if males were hitting puberty earlier than females?

  6. Angel beat me to it- it’s really not rocket science.

  7. FYI for parents: consult with a pediatric endochronologist to learn options for suppressing puberty if this is happening to your daughter.

  8. Same..its the food we eat with all the additives…look at a boy from here at 14 and one. From. Colombia or Brazil.

  9. Because they are obese.

  10. boys also, alot of boys and men have boobies..sounds funny but its true and men are become less fertile

  11. This has been going on for years and now they are paying attention to the issue?

  12. Carly- what does being obese have to do with puberty?

    And Roxana- exactly, they’ve been talking about puberty becoming younger and younger since the early 90s… it’s not new news at all.

  13. I blame lady gaga

  14. It’s tied to higher body fat percentages than in previous generations. Kids don’t run around outside all day like they used to.

  15. Lots of scientific illiteracy on this comment thread. Get informed folks, and stop looking for boogeyman smoking gun causes. And for the love of god, stop it with the anti-vaccine talk. “Hormones in vaccines?” Really?!?!? Perhaps it may behoove some to actually read the article so that your thirst for knowledge can be quenched in a proper manner.

  16. Drink cows milk in the US??? Its full of estrogen.

  17. We give it to cows to keep them lactating when they have no calves …

  18. I agree with Nick Baez…people are hella uninformed. I get it, lots of folks haven’t had formal training but geeezzzz take the initiative to read the article, do a little comparative research and THEN comment.

  19. plus you can’t make a statistically significant correlation b/t two factors when you have no… well…study on this said population. THe only person close to getting at least one of the factors right (supposing the being latino article is correct) was shot down by all the anti hormone folks about being wrong!

  20. Something in the water lol

  21. Im sure everyone has belaboured the point that its in the food but here’s a quick read on the findings of the first scientist to test gmo food’s in 1998 Dr.Arpad Putzai..and why he was slapped with a gag order :O).. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pusztai_affair

  22. Hormones in our meat coupled with Al Gore’s invention of the internet leading to the overall acceptance of porno.

  23. A bullet point video on GMO’s. http://youtu.be/1H9WZGKQeYg

  24. I started at 7 (growing breasts) and then menstruation (appearance of “Aunt Flo”) at 9. So this is no surprise.

  25. THE STEROIDS THAT ARE IN THEIR FORMULA!!!!!!

  26. Becky Sandoval says:

    If the biological father is absent from the home, girls will often go into puberty at a younger age. They found it’s because of the pheromones. Here’s a study on the subject: http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2010/09/6002/sexual-development-early-puberty-girls-linked-father-accelerated

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