In what had to be one of the most awkward studies to both participate in and administer, Danish researchers studied the onset of breast development in 2,095 European girls. Let’s hope that was self-reported. All pedophilic weirdness aside, the researchers found something very interesting: the average age of breast development in European girls has dropped one year, from 10.8 to 9.8 years.
As a girl who didn’t develop breasts until about 16 — and even then that point could be argued (I love you Victoria’s Secret gel bras!) — the thought of 9-year-olds with boobs was shocking enough to me. The researchers, however, not caring about my chest size or lack thereof, were concerned because breast development is one of the earliest signs of puberty in girls and the marked decrease has implications far beyond training bras next to the Littlest Pet Shop display.
After controlling for BMI and the age of menarche (hello Aunt Flo!), the researchers discovered that neither body weight nor menstruation was causing the earlier breast development. Which leaves us with two serious implications:
1) The environment, particularly estrogenic compounds like the much vilified bisphenol-A (BPA), is affecting girls’ hormonal development. While this has largely been speculated previously and more research would be needed to proclaim a direct link, this research does lend some credence to this theory.
2) While the average age of menstruation has held steady for the past 50 or so years at about 12 years of age, puberty as defined by breast development begins earlier, meaning girls now endure a longer period of awkwardness and angst. And to anyone who thinks my use of “endure” to be hyperbolic, well, you have obviously never been a girl in the throes of puberty.