Early Onset of Puberty in Girls on the Rise

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Early Onset of Puberty in Girls on the Rise
Early onset of puberty, known as precocious puberty, is on the rise in young girls.

Several factors are contributing to the prevalence of early onset puberty in young girls. Learn what they are and how you can support your daughter.

Puberty can be a difficult transition for girls. Entering puberty at an early age and developing an adult-like body before their peers can be especially confusing and emotionally and socially taxing for children.

Early Onset of Puberty in Girls on the Rise
Early onset of puberty, known as precocious puberty, is on the rise in young girls.

Known as precocious puberty, the number of girls affected by this condition has increased dramatically over the last few years and continues to grow. More and more girls in the U.S. are starting to show signs of development before the age of 8. Recent studies show that up to 10 percent of Caucasian girls and 23 percent of African American girls are showing signs of puberty by age 7.

What’s Contributing to Precocious Puberty (Early Puberty)
Why are the numbers of girls affected by precocious puberty increasing? Determining the exact cause is difficult to target. But experts agree that several factors may be contributing to these growing numbers.

  • Increasing rates of childhood overweight and obesity. Excess body fat alters the levels of hormones responsible for the acceleration of pubertal timing. Physical inactivity may decrease melatonin levels, which can also trigger pubertal development.
  • Increased animal protein intake. Higher total protein, animal protein and meat intake in children ages 3 to 7 have been associated with earlier onset of menstruation. High protein intake elevates IGF-1 levels and promotes growth, which could accelerate the onset of puberty.
  • Poor diet.Children with lower-nutrient diets tend to enter puberty earlier. A diet rich in processed foods and meats, dairy, and fast food is disruptive to normal physical development.
  • Exposure to EDCs (endocrine-disrupting chemicals). EDCs are synthetic chemicals found in plastics, pesticides, fuels and other industrial chemicals that inhibit or alter the action of natural hormones. Because EDCs accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals, animal foods contain higher levels of these chemicals than plant foods.
  • Exposure to BPA (bisphenol A). BPA is an industrial petrochemical found in a variety of products including plastics, tin-can linings and even cash register receipts. Because it acts as a synthetic estrogen it may speed up pubertal development.
  • Soy products. Soy contain isoflavones which are converted to phytoestregens in the body, and are similar to the hormone estrogen, Dr. Chelsea Wicks says. “Soy consumed from natural food sources is likely safe and will not cause abnormal hormones levels.  However, when consumed in large amounts, such as with soy supplements or in more processed foods, there have been links to chronic medical problems due to elevated estrogen levels.  I feel a good answer to this is to continue working on eating fresh foods and trying to avoid the processed, packaged foods as this will be best for overall general nutrition as well,” she adds.

What You Can Do
While some genetic factors play a role in the early onset of puberty, parents can help allay environmental causes of the condition.

  • Encourage and help your child to maintain a healthy weight with proper nutrition and exercise.
  • Avoid exposure to hormones such as estrogen and testosterone that may be found in hair products, medications and nutritional supplements.
  • Avoid exposure to EDCs and BPA.
  • Offer your child a diet centered around whole plant foods rather than animal foods, which will help keep protein intake within a safe range and reduce consumption of EDCs.

Create a supportive environment for your daughter. Avoid commenting on her appearance and instead focus on her achievements, academic successes or artistic talents. Speak to her openly and honestly about the physical changes she’s experiencing — that although these changes are normal, she’s simply developing early — and that ultimately her peers will undergo the same changes. Encourage your daughter to continue participating in social activities and pursuing her interests, and reassure her you are always open to discuss any questions or worries.

If you are concerned that your child may be going through these changes before expected, speak with your pediatrician.

Sources:
Precocious Puberty
Girls’ Early Puberty: What Causes It, and How to Avoid It
Early Puberty: Causes and Consequences
When Is Puberty Too Early?
Precocious Puberty (Early Puberty)
Precocious Puberty

10 COMMENTS

  1. Has anyone also noticed that girls who are in the mid to late 20’s have large feet. My daughter, born in 1986 has size 10 feet while I have only a size 6 1/2. I was born in the late 50’s, grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, and I started my period when I was 7 years old. I was an active, tall for my age, thin, normal girl. Thankfully my mother knew the signs and prepared me for the day. Had she not, I truly feel I would have become mental 🙂 Since I started early I can only attribute that to why I went through menopause in my 30’s, done in my 40’s, and have osteopenia in my 50’s. I believe it is due to the food we consume. I go organic if I can. If I eat the skin, it’s organic. If I peel it off, it’s not. I don’t eat red meat. My point is, there were not these choices back “in the day” so we are a product of our environment.

  2. In my professional opinion (MD, MPH) all of the factors are valid but it is the lack of exercise and obesity that are the biggest factors… I let my kids walk to school and am well known for being the family who’s kids walk to school… A whole 6 blocks.. And they are involved in organized sports and athletics (ycircus.org)… Please let your kids play outside and not JUST EXERCISE THEIR THUMBS in front of their Xbox or PDA…

  3. one of the biggies is the milk that is sold at stores
    the cows are injected with hormones regularly
    my aunt and uncle had a dairy farm and it was required by contract
    nothing goes in and without having consequences

    • No one really knows whether onset of puberty is really happening earlier or not. If it is, we don’t really know why. All the explanations offered above are merely speculative.

  4. What of the fact the majority of our meat supply has has been pumped full of hormones? They are further passed on through dairy products from cows that receive these hormones, all to expand profit margins. Once again the almighty dollar wins.

  5. No mention here of the fact that early onset puberty usually results in early onset bone closure which means the young women will be shorter than average (often under 5’tall) and because of that often subject to difficulty controlling weight for their lifetime.
    Also no mention of the excruciating social difficulties brought on by early change in body structure. I know about these things first hand as my daughter, now age 55, suffered through them. Our gynecologist, a research doctor at a university hospital, prescribed small doses of depo-provera which she took from age 6 to 12. This did not change the body development aspect of precocious puberty. However it did delay the onset of menses which also delayed the closure of the bone ends so she is of a normal height.

  6. No mention of the increased use of soy products, a natural form of estrogen that has been prevalent since the 90s.

    Boys and girls alike are affected.

    At least they are recognizing the impact of chemicals on our children. We fought for this recognition for years.

    • Thank you for your comments and input regarding soy and the early onset of puberty in girls. I passed your questions along to Dr. Chelsea Wicks, MD, Pediatrician with Renown Medical Group Pediatrics, and this is her response. We appreciate you reading!

      “Soy does contain isoflavones, which are converted to phytoestregens in the body, and are similar to the hormone estrogen. Soy consumed from natural food sources is likely safe and will not cause abnormal hormones levels. However, when consumed in large amounts, such as with soy supplements or in more processed foods, there have been links to chronic medical problems due to elevated estrogen levels. I feel a good answer to this is to continue working on eating fresh foods and trying to avoid the processed, packaged foods as this will be best for overall general nutrition as well.”

  7. One substance left out of the story is “soy”. Soy is in almost all of our food. Soy mimics estrogen. It is no wonder that girls are maturing early and so many boys are effeminate. If you purchase food from the British you will not find Soy in it.

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