A Facebook friend posted a link today. It was from The Today Show — a segment about early puberty. It was pretty shocking. The segment was based on a new Pediatrics study — Pubertal Assessment Method and Baseline Characteristics in a Mixed Longitudinal Study of Girls — looked at girls ages 6 to 8 who lived in three cities: East Harlem, New York, the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area; and the San Francisco Bay area. More than 1,200 girls.
The findings from the study: “At 7 years, 10.4% of white, 23.4% of black non-Hispanic, and 14.9% of Hispanic girls had attained breast stage ≥2 (defined as onset of pubertal maturation); at 8 years, 18.3%, 42.9%, and 30.9%, respectively, had attained breast stage ≥2.
These numbers mark a significant change from the last such study, done in the 1990s. I read many of the stories written about the study. One of the lead researchers, Dr. Frank M. Biro, is quoted often saying that yes, obesity definitely has something to do with what’s going on. Girls who were obese were more likely to enter puberty. Researchers also said that BPA exposure could be implicated as well. It’s not surprising. Endocrine disruptors like BPA, which mimics estrogen, are stored in fat. More fat means your body is able to store more of the fake estrogen, which can — and seems to be — turning on puberty. Parabens and pthalates, which can be found in shampoos, cosmetics and lotions, may also play a part, according to researchers.
From a New York Times story about the study: “It’s certainly throwing up a warning flag,” Dr. Biro said. “I think we need to think about the stuff we’re exposing our bodies to and the bodies of our kids. This is a wake-up call, and I think we need to pay attention to it.”
Why do researchers care? Because early puberty may be linked with an increased risk of breast cancer later in life. To me, the bigger story is the fact that early puberty seems like yet another way we’re ripping childhood away from our children. It’s bad enough there are stupid, classless people out there who sign their seven-year-olds up for pole dancing classes, or let them wear mascara — and high heels. But now, because we’ve been so cavalier with the environment, we’re dooming our little girls to getting their periods at eight and having to wear deodorant and shave their legs, too.
So what, you might say. I’ll tell you so what. I developed early. I was in sixth grade and needed a bra. Not just wanted one — needed one. I got picked on and teased mercilessly. It was horrible. I didn’t want to grow up that early. I wanted to be a regular kid. Instead, I had to deal with what I looked like in a bikini. It’s very confusing being 12 and having a teenage guy look at you in a sexual way. Scary, too.
After reading some of the coverage I wonder how my own daughters will fare in this big early puberty crap shoot. I used plastic baby bottles for Big Girl. They were not BPA-free. Will that doom her to an early puberty, especially since she’s got my genetics thrown in, too? Will the fact that she’s been BPA-free for several years now help? How about Little Girl? She’s been shielded from BPA, but can I be sure I’ve managed to eliminate it completely? These are questions to ponder at 1:13 a.m., I guess.
Do you have a daughter? Where do you stand on this issue? What do you think is the best way to protect them?