Early Puberty In Girls-Why It's Happening & What We Should Do


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During the first blogging period I wrote a post about the menopausal whale conversation we had in class. In my blog however I asked whether or not the age at which women begin going through menopause has changed in recent years. While my research on that topic yielded few answers, there is a related topic that I see in the headlines far more often.
As you've probably heard, girls are going through puberty earlier and earlier. The rapid change in the average age of puberty has caused difficulty for girls and parents alike. Girls are experiencing physical changes before their parents even have the chance to explain why these changes happen. In March of 2012, The New York Times published an article about the topic entitled Puberty Before Age 10 - A New "Normal"?. The article discussed many avenues of the subject, from methods of slowing down the process to why it's happening to what it means for girls psychologically.

Studies done in the past few decades have suggested that puberty is increasing earlier and earlier. Though African American girls tend to hit puberty earlier in general, girls of all races are going through puberty sooner. A 2010 study led by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital found that by age 7, 10.4% of white girls, 14.9% of Hispanic girls and 23.4% of African American girls had begun to develop breasts. The percentages in white and African American girls had risen significantly since a similar study in 1997, showing that the change in the population is undeniable. 

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Probably the most important question discussed here is why. The article focused on the story of Ainsley, who at 9 years-old was the tallest in her class and had very mature curves among other things. While conventional doctors couldn't identify any medical issues based on x-rays and blood tests, an applied kinesiologist suggested that it wasn't her ovaries producing excess estrogen, but rather xenoestrogens. A person's level of xenoestrogens are a result of one's environment. Though this is the explanation offered by the applied kinesiologist, scientists have also offered this as an explanation after animal testing on the subject. Of course, animal testing is the only way to ethically perform a study on the topic, though observational studies are still in the realm of possibility. As with any observational study, the data would always come with the risks of reverse causality and confounding variables. Doctors offer other possible contributing factors including family stress and weight. For example, overweight girls are most likely to begin puberty before thin girls. Researchers now believe that it is fat tissue that can cause the body to mature, rather than strictly weight.

There are many ethical and social issues that surprisingly arise from early puberty in girls. In addition to questions about earlier sex education and a changing gender dynamic at a younger age, there are also differences between the girls who develop much earlier than other girls their age. These girls are more likely to drink and lose their virginity earlier, in addition to higher incidents of depression, self-esteem issues and eating disorders. Ethical issues arise from the option of giving girls hormone injections that slow the process of puberty. Is it right to prevent the body from doing the "natural" thing with a monthly injection? Or is it in a young girl's best interests to slow the process? If your daughter was going through puberty at 6 years-old, would you try to artificially slow it? Finally, when will the younger puberty stop and what long-term connotations of these changes on the female population? Clearly this issue raises plenty of questions and isn't going away any time soon.

3 Comments

This blog is very interesting. I agree with when you say that girls who develop younger tend to become more experienced quicker. This article supports that thought http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/YouthIssues/Early-Puberty-Predicts-Early-Alcohol-Drinking-and-Intoxication.html. It is also interesting that you ask if some people would slow down their young child from going through puberty at too young an age. I think it could benefit them in the long run if it is a successful process. However, I would be too scared to mess with my child's natural body functions. I also think this can work in the opposite way, some people take hormone injections to speed up their puberty rates because some people take so long to go through puberty and go through it at such an old age.

My question is are excess xenoestrogens dangerous or harmful to the body?

This article certainly raises a number of ethical issues as to whether or not parents should try to alter the hormones of their young girls. Personally, if my child could avoid being susceptible to issues regarding depression, anxiety, and other premature hormone related problems, I would go ahead with the monthly injections. It seems to go against what is 'natural', but also it seems unnatural for a 9 year old to be going through puberty. It would be confusing for them because they're so young. When I further researched this issue, I found that puberty is starting earlier also in boys, and the reasons why are unclear. It would be interesting to see what scientist come up with as an explanation for this growing problem.

Xenoestrogens are harmful to the body. These "foreign estrogens" interfere with hormones within the bodies of living organisms. They have been linked to negative effects of the reproductive and endocrine systems of both males and females. Sources of xenoestrogens include insecticides, weedkillers, chlorine and BHA (a food preservative). According to many studies, xenoestrogens have been linked to breast cancer. However, there are a variety of ways to avoid exposure to xenoestrogens. Here is a list of the actions you can take which include: not using plastic wrap to store or microwave food, peeling non-organic fruits and vegetables, and reducing your use of plastics.
Rebecca-I also saw the article about early puberty in boys and was considering writing a follow-up blog on the topic! I think only time will tell when the average age of puberty stops deceasing and how we deal with the implications of girls experiencing puberty earlier.

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