A head-scratching new study published Saturday in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that young men in the United States are budding earlier, much like their female counterparts, which has largely frustrated researchers who always supposed that estrogen-like chemicals in the environment were hastening puberty in girls. If it were true that all of our chicken nuggets and fruit snacks were pumped full of estrogen and were therefore prematurely ruining t-shirts for 8-year-old girls, then it would make sense for boys' puberty to be delayed. That, however, doesn't seem to be happening.
The study, which compared data collected over decades of research with data compiled between 2005 and 2010 from 144 U.S. pediatric practices on 4,131 boys ages 6 to 16, found that today's boys were maturing, on average six months to two years earlier. Researchers worry that this puberty-hastening trend is pretty much a bad thing because, while boys may be physically at a faster rate, their brains are still lagging behind, even less equipped to cope with their changing bodies than they'd be in another year or two. Dr. Frank Biro, head of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children's Medical Center, said of the findings, "Now there's probably a bigger disparity between their physical maturation and their psychosocial maturation."
And how. It's been a well-documented phenomenon that girls in the U.S. have started developing breasts as early as seven or eight, which means that a psychological child will be, in Biro's portentous words, interacted with "like an adult." Early puberty also means that parents have to start having the sex talk when their kids are still getting jazzed about Saturday morning cartoons and not lying glumly on their beds, failing to stir out of their prepubescent ennui even when the faint aroma of pancakes tickles their nostrils. There's also this: something, according to Marcia Herman-Giddens at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is catalyzing this early puberty, and that something "may not be healthy." Or maybe it's creating little superhumans, processed meat product by processed meat product.
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