A new study featured in Pediatrics journal concludes that young girls are reaching the onset of puberty at younger ages than before. This research is only the newest in the multitude of studies relating to female puberty in the past decade.
During the study, researchers studied the breast growth of around 1,200 girls aged 6-8 in three separate locations: Manhattan, San Francisco and Cincinnati. White, black and Hispanic girls were equally represented at 30% and 5% of the patients were Asian. Results showed that more 7 and 8 year-olds are developing breast tissue than before. 10.4% of white, 18.3% of black and 14.9% of Hispanic 7 year-old girls showed breast growth compared to 18.3%, 42.9% and 30.9% respectively of 8-year old girls. These levels demonstrated remarkable increases from previous studies. Researchers were also surprised by the differing rates according to race, and don't yet know why these variations exist.
Physicians are unsure as to what factors may be directly causing this shift. Some doctors believe that increased levels of body fat account for most of the changes. They believe that girls who are overweight will consequently develop more quickly because fat can lead to the development of sex hormones. Others however, are not as convinced. Many doctors are concerned that chemicals in our environment that imitate estrogen are causing girls to mature physically before their bodies are truly ready.
The consequences of these changes are not yet known. Earlier onset of puberty could lead to increased levels of breast and other types of cancer, as these diseases have been linked to hormone levels, such as progesterone and estrogen, that can feed tumors. Doctors are also worried that if puberty at 7-8 becomes the projected norm, physicians will begin to overlook potentially dangerous tumorous growths or endocrine diseases; however, if we do not make note of these new changes, parents may become concerned about perfectly normal physical changes among their young children. Also, researchers and doctors alike, are worried about the emotional affect these physical changes will have on young girls. It is not easy for young girls with young minds to live in women's bodies.
It is clear that this topic requires further research but this study definitely brings new discussions to light. Please tell us what you think! We would love to hear your thoughts on this issue :) If you would like to read more, please visit this NY Times article.
Technorati tags: puberty, youth health