Many news stories recently have alerted parents of young girls to the as-yet unexplained rise in the prevalence of early-onset puberty, with a new study showing that 15% of girls are beginning puberty at the age of 7 or 8, or even younger! This is called 'precocious puberty' and is 10 times as common in girls as in boys.
Did you know that girls in the USA now typically enter puberty at the age of 10 or 11? Apparently, back in the 1700's it was unusual for girls to menstruate before about the age of 17 or 18. Obviously, improvements in diet and living conditions have impacted the onset age for puberty over the years, but researchers are searching for additional causes.
All of this means that some girls as young as in grade 3 are having to cope with acne, menstruation, growing breasts, underarm and pubic hair, mood swings, and everything else that comes with all those hormone changes.
It's a bit horrifying, isn't it? Or, at the least, concerning. It's a lot for a young girl to contend with, and doctors worry that children are unlikely to be emotionally prepared enough for puberty at these young ages, and that these girls demonstrate a greater risk of developing behavioural problems. Girls with early-onset puberty also tend to have lower self-esteem, and to battle poor body image, and engage in high-risk behaviours, such as those leading to unplanned pregnancy.
Furthermore, early onset puberty appears to have links to an increased risk of developing breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Other studies indicate that early-onset puberty may stunt the child's growth, causing her to be shorter.
What are the causes of this phenomenon, and are there any commonsense actions you can take as a parent to reduce or avoid these outcomes?
Obesity is likely to be at least partly to blame - so a fresh, healthy, and balanced diet is key.
Environmental factors, such as exposure to estrogens in plastics, chemicals and foods, are also likely culprits.
Although they admit that they do not yet have all the answers, experts do suggest the following:
- Encourage our children to 'eat from the farm, not the factory' - to eat more fruits and vegetables than sweets and fats, which will encourage a healthy weight, with less chemicals in the diet.
- As much as possible, buy organic, hormone-free milk and meat, and limit animal fats.
- Keep the child away from external sources of estrogen (and testosterone), such as prescription medications for adults or dietary supplements that contain hormones.
- Use a stainless-steel water bottle, rather than a plastic one. (The concern here is that chemicals leach out of plastic when it is heated, which is often very likely to have occurred in storage or in transit to a store.)
- For this same reason, only ever use glass containers in the microwave - never plastic, even if the container was made for microwave use. Use a plate to cover the container, rather than plastic wrap.
- Use clothing rather than sunscreen, as much as possible, to protect children in the sun, thereby minimizing the use of chemicals on the skin.
If you would like to learn more, you could start with links here and here. If I was a mother of young girls now, I'd be pretty interested in this!