Puberty Is Starting Earlier Than Ever for Girls — and the Reasons Why May Surprise You

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

I benefited from a childhood that included dirty hands, muddy feet, and twigs always stuck in my hair. I would spend my summer months almost entirely outdoors — clearly where I belonged in all my dirt-filled, messy-haired glory. I ran through fields, played for hours with my hula-hoop, and laughed just like any 10-year-old girl my age should. I was curious and carefree; an innocent kid. Life was easy.

Then fifth grade happened. Soon, I found myself sitting in a special class all about the many scary exciting “changes” that were comin’ my way, thanks to all the hormones working overtime in my body. I knew that soon enough, something inside of me would hand the baton from my little girl self to my young woman counterpart. It was a scary realization, but I can’t say I wasn’t prepared for it.

By the sixth grade, I had turned 12, got my first period, my first pimple, and my first crush. But it all came at a time in which this all made sense for me, because by then, I was more interested in styling my hair than picking dirt out of it. The years of make believe were starting to fade away, while making room for important matters — like drooling over that cute boy in 6B and embarking on my first major bra shopping experience at Macy’s.

Looking back, I can’t imagine all of those scary hormonal and emotional changes happening to me at an earlier age than they did. You see, I needed that time in my life that was fully dedicated to Barbies, Jem and the Holograms, and my huffy bike. I needed to be a little girl who had no idea how mascara and lip gloss would change my life and that those early teen years would suck, big time.

And that’s why I’m quite frankly freaked out that so many young girls are starting puberty much, much earlier than we once did. You can call it the new normal, but I tend to see it as the new problem. Especially when you take into account the reasons why it’s happening.

According to the Wall Street Journal, puberty signs are now starting at the tender age of 8. What’s more, girls who experience puberty earlier are at a higher risk of developing depression in early adolescence. And if that weren’t enough, there are long-term health risks associated with early puberty that include obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and even breast cancer.

As for what’s behind the trend, Dr. Kristian Almstrup from the University of Copenhagen told the Journal that everyday products such as beauty products and even fast food might be to blame for precocious puberty. In short: It’s all of the hormones and chemicals being pumped into the products we use and consume on a daily basis.

Said Almstrup:

“The chemicals that we think might be the prime suspects in creating the changes are endocrine disrupters. These are chemicals like biocides, plasticizers, components of personal care products and pharmaceuticals. More specifically, they could be parabens, which can be used in pharmaceutical products, cosmetic products and the food industry.”

Weight is also a huge factor that’s causing some little girls to start their periods before others. A study by the American Journal of Epidemiology says that mothers who were overweight or developed gestational diabetes while pregnant were most likely to have daughters to started puberty much earlier than their peers.

“A larger BMI [body-mass index] is probably the single biggest reason,” said Dr. Frank Biro, a professor of pediatrics at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, when speaking with the WSJ “Some of the larger BMI may be precipitated by exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are associated with greater BMI.”

Considering the fact that the childhood obesity rate in America has quadrupled in the last 30 years — and that the World Health Organization has declared it a global health crisis — perhaps this news is yet another wake-up call worth listening to. Not just for our children, but for our children’s children, too.

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