Girls reaching puberty earlier -

Girls reaching puberty earlier

Here's an alarming trend--American girls are maturing at younger ages than ever before. How young? The answer is going to shock you.

Age eight is now the "norm" for girls to start developing. And some will enter puberty even earlier!

"I don't want to put too negative a spin on it, but puberty is awful for everyone," says Dr. Cara Natterson, a pediatrician. "Puberty is the very normal process where your body sends out chemical messengers – these are called hormones -- and those hormones tell different parts of the body to grow and mature. So you see curves develop in girls. Their hips get wider. Their chests develop. You see hair development. You see growth spurts. Body odor is a huge part of puberty. If you don't talk to your kid about body odor, that is a real source of torment from the peer group. The other obvious changes that a lot of parents talk about are the mood swings.  And those are very common with puberty because emotions run hot and cold as kids' hormones are shifting."

She says that in the 1970s, the starting age for entering puberty and seeing those first changes was nine. Today, the starting age is eight.

Many people define puberty in girls by when they get their first period. But Dr. Natterson says that is not accurate.

"What we're talking about is that bodies are changing at a younger age, or moods are swinging at a younger age. Not that girls are getting their period at a younger age; that's a big distinction," says Dr. Natterson.

She states that many factors seem to be contributing to this earlier start.

"One of the reasons why puberty is starting earlier in this country is definitely related to childhood obesity," says Dr. Natterson. "When the body has more fat cells, those fat cells produce extra hormones. So if your body's making extra hormones, you're going to show signs of puberty earlier."

There are also genetic differences in when different groups of girls go into puberty. Dr. Natterson notes that Hispanic and African American girls go into puberty earlier on average than Caucasian girls.

But this doesn't explain all of it.

"We don't know why the majority of kids are starting to develop early. We don't know if it's something in the air, something in the environment, something in all the plastics that we're exposed to, or all the chemical modifiers that we're exposed to. So these can include anything from BPA in plastics to phthalates that are in our cosmetics," she says.

Dr. Natterson suggests minimizing exposure to these chemicals. But she says the exact causes and long-term effects of early puberty are not really known.

"I cannot give you a list of the three things that you should avoid in life in order to avoid early development," says Dr. Natterson. "I think one of the great catches of this debate is that we don't know if there are any consequences to developing earlier. There could be no effect at all. There could be an effect. All I can tell you is keep your kids eating right. Keep them exercising. Keep them lean."

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