According to a study of 1,239 girls, published in the journal Pediatrics, 15 percent of girls hit puberty by the age of 7, and the finding has doctors perplexed. Among black girls, one out of four go through puberty by 7 and one out of 10 white girls starts developing breasts at that age — twice the rate seen in a 1997 study. So what is the cause?
Laila, 9, from Los Angeles, developed fast — talking at 7 months, walking at 8½ months, hitting puberty at 6 years old and developing breasts by 7. She had pubic hair at age 6 and was told that her menstraul period would arrive by the time she turned 8. Doctors hope that the hormone therapy she is undergoing will hold off further premature development.
“She is still our baby but to look at her now, and think that she is growing faster than the average, we can’t help but to feel like we are being rushed through her primary years,” Laila’s mother Claudia tells USA Today.
Girls are being catapolted into adulthood, long before their brains are ready for the change, and that has many doctors worried.
“Over the last 30 years, we’ve shortened the childhood of girls by about a year and a half,” says Sandra Steingraber, author of a 2007 report on early puberty for the Breast Cancer Fund, an advocacy group. “That’s not good.”
And Laila’s doctor Pisit “Duke” Pitukcheewanont, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, adds, “This is an issue facing the new generation. Many parents don’t know what is going on.”
Specialists can’t figure out why this early development in young girls is occuring, but they say issues like obesity and hormone-like environmental chemicals could be causes.
“We have known for a long time that peripheral fat makes estrogen and so the more fat you have perhaps the more estrogen you have in your system, which could cause this,” NYC gynecologist Dr. Michelle Tham told MyFoxDC. However she added that the research is “not really there yet.”
“It’s very concerning that girls are continuing to develop earlier and earlier,” says Marcia Herman-Giddens, an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “We need to look at our environment and our culture, and what we’re doing to our kids.”
We certainly hope there are some answers soon, for both the parents and young girls who are facing this new challenge.