Carolyn Moynihan | 11 Aug 2010 |
Evidence that girls are reaching puberty as early as seven years of age is in the news this week following the publication of an article in the journal Paediatrics. It is a topic that has been debated for decades.
The new data shows that in the United States white girls are catching up with Black and Hispanic girls, who are still well ahead statistically when it comes to maturing early but among whom the trend has slowed right down.
More than 10 percent of white 7-year-old girls in the study, which was conducted in the mid-2000s, had reached a stage of breast development marking the start of puberty, compared to just 5 percent in a similar study conducted in the early 1990s.
Most lay people would be concerned about little girls’ physical development getting ahead of their intellectual and emotional development. For one thing it could make them vulnerable to sexual interest by older males. They are also more likely to mix with older children and mimic older behaviour.
But the current study (which did not include menstruation) was driven by concern about increasing rates of breast cancer among women:
Early puberty in girls is a growing public health concern because studies have shown that girls who start puberty earlier are more likely to develop breast and uterine cancer later in life. The National Institutes of Health funded the study as part of a larger investigation into the environmental factors that contribute to breast cancer risk.