Early onset of puberty in girls has been linked to several factors, all of which are rather contentious. According to certain studies, overweight girls — and Black and Hispanic girls — are more likely to develop early than white girls.
Researchers have been debating for the last ten years whether girls are really hitting puberty earlier, and if so, what could be causing the acceleration toward adulthood. The latest entry into the fray is a study to be published today in the journal Pediatrics. Doctors from around the country found that an increased number of girls were reaching puberty as young as seven or eight, as measured by development of breast tissue and onset on menstruation. The New York Times reports that the study's authors have tried to link their findings to both an increased amount of environmental chemicals and the rising problem of obesity. "Our analysis shows clearly that the white participants entered puberty earlier than we anticipated," said Dr. Frank M. Biro. "It's clearly throwing up a warning flag."
However, others think the "warning flag" has nothing to do with chemicals, and everything to do with weight and race. Dr. Catherine Gordon from the Children's Hospital in Boston said that there is no evidence age of puberty had changed for white girls of a normal weight. Numerous studies have found that Black and Hispanic girls mature earlier than whites, though no one really knows why. Gordon thinks these newest findings just strengthen the relationship between weight and puberty. Since body fat can produce sex hormones, overweight girls are more likely to be flooded with estrogen — and thus more likely to start sprouting breasts earlier.
But no matter what is causing it, puberty can be a really scary thing for girls, especially for a seven-year-old. While there is no "ideal age" for puberty, seven seems incredibly young to deal with all the issues that come with having breasts in our society. By now, we've all heard the charges against porn-culture and the increased sexualization of younger and younger girls. If girls in third grade are hitting puberty, doctors and parents need to be aware of the change, and prepared to begin discussing their changing bodies as soon as the first signs of maturation begin to occur. Is a seven-year-old ready for the sex talk? Maybe not, but they might need to hear it anyway. Because even though kids that young may not understand the way the rest of society looks at women (and our breasts and our bodies), they'll learn soon enough.