Girls are reaching puberty faster than ever before — by ages 7 and 8. That’s what a new study just published in the journal Pediatrics shows.
Other studies have found this over the past decade, but experts have been at a loss to explain why. Increased levels of obesity are definitely to blame, but doctors now believe there are also environmental factors.
A recent study showed that low sperm counts in men go back to fetal development, so I wonder if there could be anything happening when the girl fetus is in her mother’s womb that affects puberty.
Medical and psycho-sexual issues can result from earlier puberty, therefore it’s important to determine the causes. Denise Grady, reporting on the study in The New York Times, writes:
Studies suggest that earlier puberty, as measured by the age at first menstruation, can slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, probably because it results in longer lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which can feed some tumors.
Although the new study did not look at menstrual age, breast growth is also a sign of hormone exposure, and some researchers fear that early development might also mean an increased cancer risk.
Socially and emotionally, life can be difficult for a girl who has a child’s mind in a woman’s body and is not ready to deal with sexual advances from men and boys, or cope with her own hormone-spiked emotions and sexual impulses.
Even accounting for weight, the study also showed that Black and Hispanic girls physically mature more quickly than Caucasians, but no one knows why. My own suspicion is that more Blacks and Hispanics find themselves in lower income families where diet and environmental factors are worse — but there may be other reasons, of course.
Experts don’t agree on the ideal age of puberty. But when 7 year-old girls are developing breasts, I think we’ve got a problem.