Girls are now reaching puberty before they’re 10 years old, a new study has indicated. The average age for breast development to begin is now 9 years and 10 months, which is nearly a year earlier than a study in 1991 indicated.
The reason why hasn’t yet been confirmed, but the researchers think it may be connected to unhealthy lifestyles or being exposed to chemicals in food, such as bisphenol A (BPA).
The study was done in Denmark in 2006 (the latest year stats were available for), but it’s thought the trend applies to us in the UK, too. American data also suggest puberty is getting earlier, reports the Telegraph.
The earlier onset of puberty has raised concerns that girls may become sexually active at a younger age, when they’re not equipped to deal with it. There’s also worry about increased risks of breast cancer, because of their longer exposure to oestrogen, and heart disease.
“We were very surprised that there had been such a change in a period of just 15 years.
“If girls mature early, they run into teenage problems at an early age and they’re more prone to diseases later on.
“We should be worried about this regardless of what we think the underlying reasons might be.
“It’s a clear sign that something is affecting our children, whether it’s junk food, environmental chemicals or lack of physical activity,” Anders Juul, head of the Department of Growth and Reproduction at the University hospital in Copenhagen, told the Sunday Times.
Blood and urine samples from the girls in the study are now being tested by the research team, to find out if a direct link can be made between maturing early sexually and bisphenol A (BPA).
In the 19th century, puberty started around the ages of 15 for girls and 17 for boys. In the 1960s, the age for puberty to start was set around 12 for girls, when periods began, and 14 for boys, when their voice broke and they had a growth spurt, the Telegraph notes.
High meat diet and puberty
In separate study, a link between girls eating a high meat diet and early periods has been suggested, reports the BBC.
UK researchers look at the diets of more than 3,000 12-year-old girls.
Early periods were strongly linked to high meat consumption at age 3 (more than eight portions per week) and age 7 (12 portions a week), researchers said.
So what is it about meaty meals possibly leading to early periods? “Meat is a good source of zinc and iron, requirements for which are high during pregnancy.
“A meat-rich diet could be seen as indicating suitable nutritional conditions for a successful pregnancy,” said the study leader Dr Imogen Rogers, from the University of Brighton.
But don’t go cutting meat out of your daughter’s diet just yet, the researchers have stressed. They said those with the highest meat consumption were eating a lot of portions.