Have you ever noticed how girls nowadays are starting to look so much more…”mature”? Or ever thought to yourself, “Wow, I sure didn’t look like that when I was 10 years old!”
And it isn’t just about young girls wearing skinny jeans (jeez, I think I wore sweatpants to school sometimes), or sourcing product from the local Sephora before they hit middle school. There may be a serious issue here at hand.
In 2007, the Breast Cancer Fund commissioned a study about the falling age of puberty in American girls. According to the study, girls develop breasts at least one to two years earlier than they did 40 years ago. Likewise, the average onset of menarche is approximately two months earlier. While studies point to girls beginning and reaching puberty earlier, the evidence is less clear with boys.
While the average age of girls beginning menses hasn’t changed overly drastically, and while most boys still seem to enter puberty at about the same time, what is on the rise is precocious puberty, a condition in which children begin the process of puberty at an early age. Children are said to experience precocious puberty when they begin the process at age 8 for girls, and age 9 for boys.
Studies show that approximately 23 percent of African American, 15 percent of Hispanic and 10 percent of Caucasian girls show signs of puberty by the time they are eight years old (yes, I know, EIGHT years old!!). Likewise, approximately 38 percent of African-American and 28 percent of Caucasian and Hispanic boys show signs of precocious puberty development.
Precocious puberty looks like regular puberty, it just occurs earlier in life. Girls entering puberty begin to get breasts, pubic hair, and underarm hair. They may also develop acne and mature body odors, as well as experience the onset of menstruation. Boys also develop pubic, underarm, and leg hair, mature body odors, and possible acne. They also experience a deepening of the voice and testicle and penis enlargement.
Early puberty has numerous physical and mental health effects. Some of the effects include:
- In girls, longer exposure to estrogen starting earlier in life increases the risk of uterine and breast cancer.
- Early puberty accelerates aging.
- Children may experience embarrassment, poor body image, shame, self-consciousness, or loss of self-esteem.
- Reaching puberty earlier may keep them from achieving their full adult height potential.
What’s Going on?
It’s a good question, and one health experts are asking as they study the shifting age of puberty in boys and girls. Certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing precocious puberty, including:
- Low birth weight and premature birth
- Environmental exposure
- Babies fed formula
- Physical inactivity
Let’s take an in-depth look at some of the possible causes of early puberty.
The possible connection: While multiple studies link obesity to puberty, the exact mechanism remains unknown. Some scientists hypothesize that leptin is to blame. The body must have a certain amount of leptin before it begins puberty, and fat cells create it. The more fat cells one has, the more leptin is present in the body, which may be at least one link between obesity and early onset puberty.
What can parents do? Help your kids maintain a healthy body weight. Limit sugar, fast food, and high-fructose corn syrup. Instead, feed them a healthy, plant-based diet and encourage them to get out and move as much as possible.
Meat and Dairy
The possible connection: Conventionally raised animals are fed hormones in order to produce rapid growth. While this cuts a rancher’s costs and gives them more animals they can slaughter and sell into the food supply quickly, these hormones may be having a devastating on the kids who eat them. When animals are fed hormones, they are also present in their products: meat, eggs, and dairy. This has led many experts to hypothesize that children consuming factory farmed animal proteins and dairy products are taking in hormones that lead to early puberty.
What can parents do? In my opinion, there’s no such thing as healthy dairy, even when it is organic and hormone-free. If you are wondering why, check out the whole section on the issues with dairy in The Beauty Detox Solution. Instead, feed your kids almond milk. If you must eat meat (and I recommend a plant-based diet), cut back on the overall amount and then know everything you can about the sources of animal protein you are consuming. Opt to purchase your animal-based foods from local farmers that do not use hormones or antibiotics, and raise their animals in a pastoral setting rather than a factory.
The possible connection: Many water bottles, baby bottles, and other products are made from bisphenol A (BPA), a petrochemically derived ingredient in polycarbonate plastic. BPA was originally produced as a synthetic hormone, and it can seep into foods and liquids contained in the packaging from which it is made. According to the CDC, BPA has been shown to affect the reproductive system in rodents, and it may have similar hormonal effects in humans.
What can parents do? Avoid packaging, water bottles, baby bottles, and other items containing BPA. Instead, use glass or metal bottles and containers.
The possible connection: Baby formulas are made from either dairy products or soy. Both have potential negative hormonal effects. Dairy we briefly discussed above, but soy is not much better. Soy mimics estrogen in the body, which may lead to early onset puberty.
What can parents do? Breastfeeding is always best for baby if at all possible. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of baby’s life, and supplementing healthful foods with breastfeeding after that. Many experts recommend breastfeeding for even longer, ideally a year. If the child is a bit older, goat’s milk formulas may be an option for those that can’t breastfeed for any reason.
Know anyone with a young child or who is pregnant or looking to get pregnant? Be sure to share this article, and help to protect our next generation!