First Signs of Puberty Seen in Younger Girls

A new study from Cincinnati finds that girls are more likely today than in the past to start developing breasts by age 7 or 8. Why is this happening? Increased rates of obesity are thought to play a major role, because body fat can produce sex hormones. Some researchers also suspect that environmental chemicals that mimic the effects of estrogen may be speeding up the clock on puberty, but that idea is unproved as yet. This issue is of concern for both medical and psychosocial reasons. Studies suggest that earlier puberty, as measured by the age at first menstruation, can slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, probably because it results in longer lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which can feed some tumors. Although the new study did not look at menstrual age, breast growth is also a sign of hormone exposure, and some researchers fear that early development might also mean an increased cancer risk. The psychosocial impact can be devastating to a child in a non-supportive environment. A developing and changing body, hormones which can affect mood and create emotional instability, and an environment where dieting or being thin is cherished, can all lead to early foundations for later problems with eating, weight and body image. What can we do as parents to help our children move through this passage of life with a healthy body and mind?