Puberty can be a difficult and confusing time for any young person’from the surging hormones to the feeling of being trapped in a rapidly changing and awkward body’but imagine having to wrap your head around it all at the age of seven. The CBC reports that researchers in the U.S. have found that girls as young as seven are developing breasts and beginning the early stages of puberty, according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics‘and childhood obesity may be partly to blame.
Researchers from the University of Cincinnati studied more than 1,200 girls age six to eight from various cities in the United States and compared the age at which they began to show signs of puberty to similar studies from previous years. What they found is that the percentage of girls who began developing breasts at age seven and eight had increased significantly‘and in the case of caucasian girls, specifically, the percentage had doubled.
“Our study comes on the other side of the obesity epidemic that’s occurred not only in this country, but other countries around the world. We think that one of the more important contributing factors is the higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in the girls in the twenty-first century,” said study author Dr. Frank Biro of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, in an interview (video clip above). Biro also pointed to products with endocrine-disrupting chemicals as a potential link.
Apart from the physical changes of puberty, the emotional and social stresses of having a more mature body at such a young age can be difficult for both children and parents to navigate’a concern which was raised by the study’s authors. Furthermore, Biro notes that girls who experience early maturation are at an increased risk of breast cancer later in life.
But what’s a parent to do? "I think living green is going to be an important thing," says Biro. "Making sure that you’re not exposing your children to cosmetics or other personal care products that have these potential endocrine disrupters." Biro also suggests small changes like eating dinner as a family and engaging in more physical activity (in moderation). Not only will these lifestyle changes help to lower your child’s risk of early puberty, but they can help to improve the health of your entire family.