Have you been wondering what’s going on with girls…why they are growing up so fast? It turns out that what most people have been observing with some unease is no myth: the early onset of puberty for girls is indeed accelerating. A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics reported that more girls are now reaching puberty (indicated by breast development, not menstruation) as early as 7 years old. About 23% of black girls, 15% of hispanic girls, and 10% of white girls begin puberty by age 7. Early puberty appears to be connected with obesity, as well as with a diet high in meat and junk food.
Why is this a problem? According to lead research, Dr. Frank Biro, “girls who develop earlier may be more likely to get breast cancer and engage in risky behavior like sex than girls who go through puberty later. They also are more prone to depression.” He adds that “For the 11-year old that looks like she’s 15 or 16, adults are going to interact with her like she’s 15 or 16, but so are her peers.” But, he points out, “It doesn’t mean that they’re psychologically or socially more mature.”
As the school year begins, and there is less opportunity for exercise, we might want to add family walks, or sports, to our list of things to do to keep our kids healthy. The busyness of the school year makes it hard to prepare healthy snacks and meals, but a little more forethought as we scan the shelves at the grocery store might be in order. This study just gives us one more reason why Americans need to improve our families’ eating and exercise habits.