Why is puberty starting earlier than ever for girls?

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Puberty is starting earlier and earlier in girls. What's causing it?

On the average, girls start showing signs of puberty around the age of 9. But according to researchers, puberty appears to be starting earlier in healthy girls, and possibly even boys. Some medical practitioners are beginning to test girls as young as 6 for signs of puberty.

“In general, we think that 7 is now probably a normal age to have some signs of puberty,” pediatric endocrinologist Louise Greenspan tells The Wall Street Journal“So the cutoff for precocious puberty is a gray zone now.”

Precocious puberty is the medical term for early puberty that occurs in girls under 8 and boys under 9.

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Photo: Shutterstock

Possible causes of precocious puberty

Childhood obesity
Plenty of experts say that the earlier onset of puberty in girls is largely due to increasing childhood obesity rates. Body fat releases estrogen, causing the start of breast development.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals
Though this is yet to be proved, a larger BMI may be caused by endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates, which are often used in the production of plastics, and phenols, and are used in many sanitizers and sunscreen.

Prenatal factors
Studies have found that mothers who were overweight before pregnancy and developed gestational diabetes when pregnant gave birth to daughters who started puberty earlier.

Stress
Other studies have found that toxic stress may also play a role in precocious puberty in girls. “Girls who grow up in families with a lot of strife or violence in their neighborhood are more likely to develop earlier,” Dr. Greenspan says. Her research found that girls who grew up without a biological father are twice as likely to get their period before age 12.

Why should we be worried about early puberty? How do we prevent it? Find out about the health consequences and avoidance tips on the next page.

Health consequences of precocious puberty

Should we worry that puberty is starting earlier for many girls? There are plenty of health consequences associated with early puberty: early-maturing girls have a higher risk of depression; obesity; diabetes; breast cancer; and risk-taking behavior like substance abuse, smoking, and earlier engagement in sexual behaviors.

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Photo: Dreamstime

Precocious puberty avoidance

For parents worried about early puberty, it’s best to:

  • make sure that your children are eating healthy and get enough exercise
  • avoid products without phthalates or parabens
  • avoid microwaving plastic.
  • eat organic when possible (insecticides and pesticides may have endocrine-disrupting chemicals)
  • eat a diet rich in fiber (fiber has been proven to delay puberty)

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