Girls have been developing breast buds and getting pubic hair as early as seven or eight years old, which, according to experts, this trend represents "a new norm."
This week, at the annual conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics, experts weighed in at a session titled "Precocious Puberty and its Variants," saying that the onset of puberty might begin earlier, but the process tends to slow down. While girls are developing breasts at a younger age, the age of menarche has only shifted slightly in the last 40 years, going from 12.75 in 1970 to 12.5 today.
Theories on early onset puberty range from the hormones in food that are given to chickens and cows to produce more eggs and milk to ethnicity. But according to Dr. Paul Kaplowitz, an endocrinologist who spoke at the conference, the issue is closely tied to the obesity epidemic. He bases his theory on a 2001 study he helped conduct of girls 6 - 9 years old that linked body fat to puberty timing.
He stresses that early onset puberty simply means "having a sooner-than-expected conversation" of a process that is a "normal part of life."