According to a report commissioned by the Breast Cancer Fund, a California group that uses cigarette tax money to support research on the environmental causes of breast cancer, the average age of puberty has fallen steadily in the past several decades, bringing with it greater risks for later breast cancer, as well as a host of other social and emotional difficulties for girls who reach menarche (age of first menstruation) before age 12. The average age of menarche in the United States is 12.6 years (for U.S. black girls 12.1). Early maturation of the ovaries means that a girl will produce more estradiol (a form of estrogen) over her lifetime than average. Research shows a clear relationship between estrogen and breast cancer development. In addition, early puberty can bring with it other problems such as depression, eating disorders, attempted suicide, drug abuse, and conduct disorders.
The causes of early puberty in girls are still unclear but may involve several factors including low birth weight, formula feeding, low physical activity, childhood obesity, hormones in meat and milk, family emotional dysfunction, and second-hand tobacco smoke. The author of the report, biologist Sandra Steingraber, writes: “because it arises from a combination of many different stressors in different aspects of the environment–psychosocial, nutritional, behavioral, chemical–early puberty is not an event that will be reversed by single actions by single-purpose agencies. It is a multi-causal threat to the well-being of girls and women that ultimately requires a comprehensive, integrated, unified response.” To download the entire 73-page report, click here.
For developmental information about children and young teens, see my book: The Human Odyssey: Navigating the Twelve Stages of Life.
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