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Study: Girls Entering Puberty Earlier

By Age 7, Breast Development More Common Than Reported 10 to 30 Years Ago

Earlier Puberty: Explaining the Findings

The researchers also collected urine and blood specimens from the girls to look at levels of compounds called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, Biro says, to see what role these environmental exposures might play in early puberty.

''It appears that some of the endocrine-disrupting chemicals are interacting with body composition and this may be the reason some girls are going into puberty earlier and others later," Biro tells WebMD. "That would have to be speculation," he says of the interaction idea. "But we do know BMI is doing it."

Among 6- to 11-year-olds, obesity has increased from 6.5% in 1976-1980 to 19.6% in 2007-2008, according to the CDC.

Endocrine-disrupting compounds or EDCs are found in a host of consumer products, ranging from personal care products such as antibacterial soaps to furniture and anti-stain fabrics.

Earlier Puberty Study: Other Thoughts

Although further research is likely to pinpoint the cause of earlier puberty in girls, the focus now should be on more practical matters, says Warren Seigel, MD, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Adolescence and chair of the department of pediatrics at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn.

"Instead of debating the cause only, let's talk about what we can do right now, and [that is], we have to be on guard," Seigel tells WebMD.

Pediatricians as well as parents should be talking to children earlier than they previously have thought necessary, discussing sex as well as substance abuse, Seigel says.

Earlier Puberty: Tips for Parents

Until more is known about what drives earlier puberty in girls, Biro suggests families try ''living greener, trying to minimize exposure to chemicals in the environment, and part of that might be using safer personal care products."

He suggests choosing products that are free of the chemical phthalates. And to control weight, he says families can participate in physical activity together.

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