Early puberty for US girls raises health risk

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hormones that control puberty. According to a new study, US girls are reaching puberty earlier than in the past 10-30 years.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

According to a new study, US girls are reaching puberty earlier than ever, a trend that raises some health concerns. The study, which was conducted in New York's East Harlem, the Cincinnati metropolitan area, and the San Francisco Bay area, showed that by age eight, 27% of girls had begun puberty and showed breast development. By age seven, 15% of girls were developing breasts.

There were differences among races. By age 7, 10.4% of white girls had reached puberty, up from 5% in a 1997 study. In contrast, 23.4% of African-Americans and 14.9% of Hispanics had reached puberty. Also, at age 8, 18.3% of whites, 42.9% of blacks and 30.9% of Hispanics had reached puberty.

Girls who reach puberty earlier have a higher chance of engaging in early sexual activity. The study examined 1,239 girls aged between six and eight.

Though the study did not address why US girls were reaching breast development earlier, it found that heavier girls reached puberty earlier. Marcia Herman-Giddens of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has said that the earlier puberty could be related to the rising obesity rate among US citizens. Currently, a third of US children are overweight or obese. Scientists and researchers are also worried about chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and atrazine that could disrupt growth hormones. The chemical industry says that these chemicals are safe and are harmless to humans.

Herman-Giddens also said that it can be confusing to hit puberty at a young age. Girls reaching puberty at a younger age are more likely to attempt suicide. Also, earlier puberty can cause low self-esteem and depression and at adulthood, girls who reached puberty earlier are more likely to have breast cancer and endometrial cancer.