Here’s some scary news: more American girls, particularly Caucasians, are starting puberty at age seven compared to those born 10-30 years ago. No, that wasn’t a typo. Girls are developing breast tissue at seven years of age. That’s first or second grade, folks. It was embarrassing enough to wear that training bra in fifth grade when I was growing up. Imagine how it feels for girls today!
A study published in the journal Pediatrics this week looked at this disturbing trend. Girls ages 6-8 years old in three metropolitan areas — New York, San Francisco and Cincinnati — were evaluated for the first sign of puberty (breast development).
Here’s what researchers found:
- 10.4% of Caucasian 7-year-olds and 18.3% of 8-year-olds had breast tissue.
- 14.9% of Hispanic 7-year-old girls and 30.9% of 8-year-olds had breast tissue.
- 23.4% of Black, non-Hispanic 7-year-old girls and 42.9% of 8-year-olds had breast tissue.
Once breast tissue develops, it’s about two years until a girl menstruates (gets her first period). According to a 2003 report, the median age for American girls to have their first period is 12.4 years. (Less than 10% of girls menstruated under 11 years of age and more than 90% of girls menstruated by 13.75 years of age.) With girls beginning puberty development at 7 or 8, that means they will be menstruating at age 9 or 10. That’s third or fourth grade!
So, what do you need to know if you have a daughter?
Q. Are there any health concerns with early puberty?
Yes. Early puberty is associated with a greater risk of breast cancer and endometrial cancer. Studies also show that girls who develop earlier may have more issues with poor self-esteem, poor body image, earlier sexuality and eating disorders.
Q. Why is this happening?
That’s the million dollar question. This particular study did not address the potential reasons for early puberty, but it seems to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The researchers did not look at exposures to environmental chemicals (e.g. “endocrine disruptors”) or dietary patterns in the girls who were studied. In my professional experience, I believe early puberty is another health consequence of the obesity epidemic. Overweight girls reach puberty sooner.
Q. Is milk the culprit?
Probably not. I get this question a lot. I’ve read the medical literature and I do not think that bovine growth hormone (rBGH) or soy milk is the reason for early puberty. But, I recommend your kids drink skim or 1% milk after age two. Whole or 2% provides too much fat and obesity is clearly a risk factor for early puberty.
Q. What can I do to try to prevent my daughter from going through puberty early?
Offer her healthy food options. Keep her active physically. And keep a close eye on her body mass index. Don’t shrug it off if your child’s doctor has concerns.
Worried about your daughter hitting puberty early? Voice your concerns on the Parenting Community.