In the 19th century, the average age for a girl to hit puberty was 15 years old. By the 1960’s, that age had fallen to about 12.5. But a recent study out of the University Hospital in Copenhagen puts the average age for breast development to begin in girls at 9 years, 10 months. Other studies have reported similar numbers and the implication is clear: Girls today are reaching puberty at a much younger age than ever before. So, what gives? Why are girls’ bodies maturing so fast?
Lots of theories have been put forth to explain this trend. Diet likely plays a large part with the modern girl having access to more and better food than her ancestors. But better nutrition can’t can’t completely explain the precipitous drop in the average age of the onset of puberty that has taken place in the recent past.
While scientists continue to study the matter, the latest research suggests that a diet high in meat may be a factor. A University of Brighton study of 3,000 girls found that those with higher intakes of meat and protein were more likely to have started their periods by the age of 12 and a half. In fact, nearly half of the girls studied who ate more than 12 portions of meat a week had begun menstruating before they even became teenagers. Of those who ate fewer than four portions of meat per week, only 35% started their periods by that age.
For the purposes of this study, a portion of meat is considered the normal amount a child would consume in one meal.
Lead author of the study, Dr Imogen Rogers, cautions that these findings are preliminary and should not be interpreted to mean that parents should eliminate meat from their daughters’ diets.
“Meat is a good source of many important nutrients including iron and zinc and there is no reason why girls should adopt a vegetarian diet or that meat in moderation cannot form a valuable part of a balanced diet for children.”
So, what’s the big deal about girls developing early? Beyond the emotional toll involved in developing a grown-up body when you are still a child, girls who hit puberty early are believed to be at higher risk for developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer and heart disease.
I am glad the issue is being studied but I personally think science is nowhere near solving the puzzle. Coming from a family in which the women tend to develop very early, I did everything I thought I could to prevent this from happening to my own girl. She’s never been a big meat eater and I’ve made sure her diet is as organic and hormone-free as possible. And where did that get us? She began developing breasts at the tender age of 8 and, according to her doctor, should expect her period some time around her 10th birthday.
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