More American Girls Hitting Puberty Early

May 27, 2008 09:53 AM
by Colleen Brondou
Researchers are investigating why many girls are reaching puberty at earlier ages, a developmental trend putting preteens under social and emotional pressure.

30-Second Summary

Girls are physically maturing earlier, some as young as age seven, and theories about the causes include diet, environmental factors and even societal pressures.

The Falling Age of Puberty, a 2007 report by Sandra Steingraber commissioned by the Breast Cancer Fund, reviews current research and provides a comprehensive look at why girls in the United States are maturing earlier.

Steingraber believes that obesity and premature birth are leading factors, but also suspects that chemical endocrine disruptors may contribute. Endocrine disruptors are commonly used compounds in household products that chemically mimic natural hormones, and are suspected by some of disrupting body processes.

Other researchers have more controversial theories, such as the absence of fathers in many families and the media’s sexualization of children.

Lucia Reed was seven years old when her period started. Now 19, she describes her social isolation and fear: “The scariest part was that because I looked older than I was, men would come on to me as though I was an adult, when actually I was 11.”

Dealing with puberty
is challenging for any teenager, but early puberty presents additional challenges. Drugs have been used to treat the condition since 1993.

Yet Jennifer Johnson, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on Adolescent Health, warns that such intervention can “send a message to girls, and that message is: “We can’t trust you with what your body is doing.”

Headline Links: Researcher investigates why girls reach puberty earlier

Reactions: “I felt completely alone and alienated”

Opinion & Analysis: Examining the culprits for early-onset maturation

Related Topics: ‘Treating’ early puberty, hormonal pollutants and health

Reference: Resources on adolescent development and ‘Precocious Puberty’


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