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Teen girls developing at a younger age

Posted July 20, 2009
Updated October 12, 2011

— Without a doubt, the world is moving at a faster pace today, and children are growing up quicker.

It's not just cultural influences. Doctors say young girls are reaching puberty earlier than previous generations – sometimes at ages as young as 7.

"In general, the trend for the onset of puberty in girls is becoming younger," said Dr. William Lagarde, a pediatric endocrinologist at WakeMed in Raleigh.

girls Are little girls developing too early?

According to scientific studies, the age of puberty in girls has fallen from 11 to 10 in the past two decades.

Some scientists theorize chemicals in household cleaners and pesticides mimic estrogen, throwing girls into early puberty. Others believe growth hormones in milk and meats are responsible.

Lagarde says he does not think scientists have enough data to show a clear link.

"People have looked at chemicals in the environment, endocrine disruptors and such, but it's not clear why it's happening," Lagarde said. "None of these chemicals have been really clearly associated with earlier onset of puberty."

While scientists are researching why, families are coping with the emotional and practical challenges associated with early development.

The development of breasts and the onset of menstruation at an early age can leave girls – possibly unaware of what is happening to their bodies – scared, embarrassed and confused.

"I had this one friend, and she developed faster than everyone else," said Kara Johnson, 13. "Sometimes, she felt really sad about it, and she tried to talk to me about it because she felt like people were teasing her and picking on her."

Also 13 and in eighth grade, people have mistaken Kayla Madia for a college student.

"It's very odd having people ask me if I'm in college when I'm in middle school," Kayla said. "I didn't realize I looked that old to them."

"Clothing is a huge challenge – trying to find clothes that are age appropriate and that she likes," Kayla's mother, Debbie Madia, said. "Cleavage is not an option when you're 13."

In cases in which there is a danger of inadequate growth – experts say that, if puberty begins too early, a girl's adult height can be stunted significantly – doctors can prescribe medicine to slow or to stop early puberty.

"We do have medicine that we can give that actually suppress puberty and actually pause or turn off the pituitary gland so that puberty does not progress while you're on that particular medicine," Lagrande said.

But for the most part, doctors recommend families help their daughters learn to accept their development.

"At the same time, you don't want to put too much emphasis on it, because you don't want to shift the other way and make them feel embarrassed," Debbie Madia said. "They can't control what's happening to their bodies."


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  • seankelly15 Jul 21, 2009

    A pediatric endocrinologist is not equipped to comment on the age of menarche'. He sees the problem children not healthy children. The actual evidence indicates that the was a tapering off from this decreasing average age of menarche' and then a leveling in the early 2000s. The average age has actually increased slightly. If there was a true pubertal connection then we would see a decrease in average height (early puberty is associated with shorter stature because the epiphyses are affected by the pubertal hormones) which we are not seeing. Anecdotal accounts do not make a science,

  • wcumom Jul 21, 2009

    I had pleanty of Milk and meats growing up and I was "17" while my mom was "10" ...SO.My Docotor the connection is TADA."body fat" which kicks in the hormones needed.It's not rocket science as many want you to believe.Mom is shorter and thicker,I am 5'7" 142 lbs at 48 yrs old.See the difference?

  • manofjustice Jul 21, 2009

    It is not just girls developing fast, I know some boys that are developing and maturing in places too fast also. I even know a boy, one of my son's friends who is 8 years old and he has boobs and hips like a girl. It is real embarrassing for him.

  • mpheels Jul 21, 2009

    It's funny to see how much people "know" about this issue. It is against FDA regulations to give pigs and chickens raised, processed or sold in the US any additional hormones. Pigs and poultry are brought to market quickly because they have been bread to grow larger, faster. They do not need added hormones to grow quickly, in fact adding hormones doesn't make them any larger. Cattle, on the other hand, are given hormones both to speed up the birth to market time and to extend milk production by dairy cows.

    As to why this effects girls more than boys, the hormones and other chemicals mimic estrogen, which tricks girls' bodies into thinking they are ready for puberty. Estrogen effects boys' bodies differently than girls, that is why we aren't seeing the same trend across sexes.

  • merrywidow Jul 21, 2009

    I'm sure hormones and steroids are factors, but obesity aside our children are generally healthier than, say, 100 years ago because of prenatal care and immunizations.

    So for those girls who aren't obese and who don't eat a lot of junk food, I would simply say that human evolution is in the works.

  • Jul 21, 2009

    Case in point, my menstrating 9yr old daughter was found to have an endocrine problem, exams found an abnormal brain tumor at 12 causing her 5pound per day weight gain, early puberty and now at 16 no fear of her endulging in any sexual games at 280lbs. Teen pregnancy cured with the help of life threatening diseases created by our poison based toys and products courtesy of China.

  • hollylama Jul 21, 2009

    Look at an environmental science text book and you'll see that most meats we consume are inundated with growth hormones and antibiotics.

  • lvhv2003 Jul 21, 2009

    Nobody has mentioned the fact that estrogen disruptors are released into food when microwaved in plastic containers. I have read that food should only be microwaved in glass containers. It is a small step to take protect our food.

  • gdail2 Jul 21, 2009

    Well if my son is any indication, this is a problem with boys as well. He is at least a year early it seems to me.

  • noodler Jul 21, 2009

    I started at 11yrs 6mos, the summer between 5th and 6th grade. My daughter was 10 ys 6mos. She is not obese. However, she does look older than she is. She gets picked on by boys at school, not she doesn't show cleavage, doesn't wear "daisy dukes" doesn't wear any make-up. I can't change her developing body, but we control what we can. Her jewelry and clothing is modest. The things I see some of her friends wear is unbelievable!