Blossoming Too Early?
American girls are reaching puberty younger than ever. Why?
Why Is the Age of Puberty Dropping? continued...
Others attribute the drop to in increase in childhood obesity. "My own
bias is that a major contributor to earlier puberty is the increasing
prevalence of obesity over the past 25 years -- especially in 6- to 11-year-old
girls," says Paul Kaplowitz, M.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics at
Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Charlottesville, Va.,
and author of the LWPES report. "It has long been known that overweight
girls tend to mature earlier and thin girls tend to mature later."
As for African-American girls maturing even earlier, Boepple believes this
may be due to a higher cultural tendency toward obesity, while Kaplowitz
hypothesizes that there may be genetic differences within the African-American
population that predispose them to an earlier onset.
If a child is showing early signs of puberty, an evaluation by an
endocrinologist is recommended to rule out other risks. "In a few cases,
early puberty can be indicative of a tumor of the reproductive organs or that
the brain has erroneously triggered the production of estrogen," says
Boepple. "The great majority of girls are just developing early. But if a
girl has unusual symptoms including headaches, abdominal pain, and weight loss,
or if there isn't the growth spurt associated with puberty, there may be
Preparing Little Girls for Womanhood
While researchers speculate on reasons for the drop, parents must contend
with broaching the subject of sexual development with children while they are
still in grade school. According to Helen Egger, M.D., a child psychiatrist in
Duke University's department of psychiatry, once you've noticed signs, it's
important to let your child take the lead. Egger's own daughter started showing
signs of puberty at 8, so she gave her daughter some books about puberty geared
to pre-teens as a catalyst for discussion. Then she waited for her daughter to
approach her with questions. "Our daughter wanted to talk about some of the
topics that the books brought up, such as menstruation and breast
development," Egger says. "She recognized on her own that her body was
changing before her friends', and that naturally led to discussions about how
she felt about that."