It’s been widely accepted for years now that girls today are hitting puberty at an earlier age than in the past. Researchers proved this more than a decade ago by looking at the age at which girls develop breasts and begin menstruation. Recently, however, researchers looked at when boys are developing enlarged testes and producing sperm and have determined that they are also reaching puberty at a younger age.
These findings go against what medical experts and texts have long held as normal when it comes to puberty: 8 to twelve years of age for girls and 9 to thirteen years old for boys. Instead, girls are now reaching puberty before 8 and boys before 9. But why is puberty coming earlier, and is it detrimental to children’s healthy?
Neither of those questions have been definitively answered, but there are a number of theories.
Health experts believe the obesity epidemic is a major influence on girls reaching puberty faster. This is because fat tissue can convert other hormones into estrogen, triggering an early onset of puberty in girls who are overweight.
An increase in estrogen production wouldn’t be a factor in early onset puberty in boys, however, so there are a number of other suspected environmental causes. These include exposure to everyday chemicals like food additives, pesticides, BPA (a chemical found in some plastics), as well as a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet.
Just as the cause is not clear, the long-term effects of early puberty are also unknown. However, most health experts agree that such a sudden change in the development cycle of humans is potentially harmful.
If you believe your child is showing signs of puberty prematurely, speak to your pediatrician about your concerns and be sure to monitor your child for any emotional distress that could accompany these changes.