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