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Study: Girls Hitting Puberty Earlier

Brian Hagiwara

As the mom of two little boys, I occasionally throw a little pity party for myself, thinking of how I’ll miss out on some of the mother-daughter bonding that I enjoyed with my mom while growing up and big adult occasions, like wedding dress shopping. But, I’m also thankful for some of the things that I won’t have to deal with -- like 7-year-old daughters developing breasts.

In the journal Pediatrics, a study published on Monday showed that American girls are reaching puberty (defined by the development of breast buds; the study did not look at age of first menstruation) ever earlier. The study, sparked by an investigation into the impact of puberty and other factors on breast cancer, included over 1200 girls between the ages of 6 and 8 from three major U.S. cities: NYC, Cincinnati, and San Francisco. It revealed an increase in the number of girls going through puberty between the ages of 7 and 8. For example, 23 percent of 7-year-old black girls had started puberty as compared to 15 percent in a 1997 study, and 10 percent of 7-year-old white girls had some breast development, a twofold increase from the same 1997 study.

Researchers are uncertain as to the cause of this shift, but are considering factors like the rise in obesity as well as environmental factors, like exposure to estrogens in plastics, chemicals, and foods.

Scientists are also unsure of what the results mean for these young girls, but they are concerned about links between an early start to menstruation and an elevated risk of breast cancer, ties between early puberty and lower self-esteem and negative body image, and a greater likelihood of increasing in risky behaviors, potentially resulting in unplanned pregnancies.

Moms, at what age did you first start developing breast buds?  And is your daughter developing faster than you did?

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