The news out of Cincinnati Children’s last week that the age of onset of puberty in girls continues to decline made headlines around the world.
A study by Frank Biro, MD, director of Adolescent Medicine, showed that the number of 7- and 8-year-old girls who have breast development is greater than that indicated in studies conducted as recently as 10 years ago. The study published in the journal Pediatrics drew gasps – at least from many of the people I’ve talked to.
Dr. Biro suggests that families eat meals together and live a healthier lifestyle, because greater body mass index, as well as obesity, increases the risk of early puberty. Earlier menarche (first menstrual period) itself increases the risk of breast cancer later in life.
He also suggests we live “a little greener” and avoid using lots of different products containing chemicals called endocrine disruptors, such as phthalates – a chemical used to make plastics that has been linked in some studies to a variety of medical issues.
We’ll learn more about this trend toward earlier puberty and what’s causing it in coming years as Dr. Biro and others complete more research. In the meantime, Dr. Biro reminds us that it is important to treat children as children. What does he mean by this? Girls who enter puberty may look older than they really are.
While it’s important that adolescents grow into adults, it’s equally important that children are allowed to develop in an age-appropriate manner.
That girl you meet who may look 16 years old, but she may only be 10 or 12. She needs to be treated as such to develop in an emotionally healthy way.