Study shows current rates of early development higher than in the late ’90s
Young girls in this country are hitting puberty sooner, says a new study, and obesity is believed to be the culprit behind this early development.
The study of more than 1,200 girls between 2004 and 2011 found that American girls are typically starting to develop breasts about age 9. Overweight or obese girls started breast development earlier, around age 8. Black girls are developing breasts about age 8; Hispanic, white and Asian girls are starting about age 9. These findings are concerning, the study’s researchers say, because the typical age at breast development is younger now than in a similar study from 1997. Childhood obesity rates—like those of adults—are higher now than they were during that earlier study; currently, more than a third of children and teens are overweight or obese.
Early puberty has been linked to a host of problems, including risky behaviors, depression, heart disease and breast cancer. “Girls with earlier maturation are at risk for lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression,” the study’s authors say in a report. “They are more likely to be influenced by older peers and more deviant peers, and initiate intercourse, substance use and other norm-breaking behaviors at younger ages.”
Other factors, including environmental chemicals and diets high in dairy and meat, could play a part in earlier puberty, but studies don’t yet support these theories.