A recently released study shows that girls are more likely to develop breasts as early as 7 or 8 years old, younger than ever before. The journal, Pediatrics, says that in most cases, girls who begin to undergo puberty at such an early age are overweight, but it is not felt that being overweight tells the whole story, and environmental causes may also be possible, such as chemicals that children are exposed to regularly.
It is known that Black and Hispanic girls, puberty tends to come earlier, and many doctors feel that while white girls who are overweight may begin to develop breast earlier than girls of average weight, the first menstrual period still begins at around the age of 12 or 13, no matter when breast development began. No one knows why girls in certain ethnic groups tend to hit puberty earlier. It is just accepted.
Obesity among children in the U.S. has hit almost epidemic proportions. As a result, there are more overweight 7 and 8-year-old girls than ever before. Because there is a larger number of young, overweight, girls, the noting of early breast development has become more prevalent. But, if weight is not the only cause behind this early sprouting of breast, what is it in our environment that is causing these changes? It is essential that work is done to determine, and eliminate whatever it is that our kids may be eating, breathing, or drinking, that may contribute to these early body changes.
What are the long term consequences of little girls, ages 7 or 8, developing breasts? The number one concern is a higher risk of breast cancer. The longer breast tissue is present, the longer it is exposed to estrogen in the body, and the higher the risk for developing breast cancer becomes. At the same time, girls at the age of 7 are not emotionally ready to tackle all that comes along with puberty, and having breasts. These young girls, who may already carry the burden of being overweight, may become the targets of teasing, or worse, sexual advances.
It is awful to think that young girls who should still be playing with dolls may increasingly have to contend with buying bras, and being noticed not for their sweet faces, but for their breasts. The thought of having to worry about protecting a female child from sexual comments and teasing at such a young age should concern all mothers. Aside from helping our daughters keep a healthy weight through good diet and nutritional practices, we all need to make it a priority to find out what might be in our child’s day to day environment that is causing such early body changes. We owe it to our kids to help them be able to stay kids for as long as possible.
Teresa Walsh Giarusso
Girls Hitting Puberty as Early as 7 or 8