too young for changes

October 27, 2011

As a teacher in my district, every week I receive a Time Magazine in my mailbox. Our school subscribes to Time for Kids, which is a weekly publication for students — therefore, I get the perk of getting a free magazine to sift through from time to time. To be perfectly honest with you, I rarely read my Time Magazine. Many times I will maybe skim through the cover story, but most of the time I am way too busy to actually sit down and read and article throughout the course of the day.

However, this morning I saw a headline on the cover that caught my eye – “Health Report: The Rise and Risks of Early Puberty”. As a teacher and someone who works with young girls, this article immediately caught my attention and I knew I had to read it. I have heard in recent years the speculations of puberty starting younger and younger for girls and have heard claims of what could be causing it, but I had never read quite as much research about it until I read that particular article this morning. Being a teacher, I can tell you that there are so many young girls who have bodies of teenagers in the fifth grade — even more, there are girls in second or third grade I can tell are already going through changes. I was a little taken aback after reading this article seeing that puberty is not even diagnosed as premature unless it happens before a girl’s eighth birthday — shocking!

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According to this article written by Jeffrey Kluger, many more girls than before are starting puberty at age eight. In the middle of the twentieth century, the average age for girls to start going through puberty was 13 — a drastic change to what is being seen right now. Kluger speculates there is only one thing that has changed since then… our diet.

A number of domino effects have happened since the United States changed their diets over the course of the last fifty years — obesity has been on the rise, meat and dairy products have been eaten in larger quantities, industrial chemicals have been added to foods, and the majority of children are far too inactive.

Let’s break a few of the categories down a little bit.

Obesity — In recent years, a third of all US kids are overweight or obese, a rising 20% of children in the 6-11 age range. The reason why obesity might speed things up is because fatty tissue stimulates the release of sex hormones. Therefore, if an overweight child starts producing sex hormones early, the rest of puberty is bound and determined to come as well.

Diet & Industrial Chemicals — I could go on about this one for days. The SAD (Standard American Diet) is full of high fat/caloric foods for starters.

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Even more disturbing to me is the amount of chemicals people consume on a daily basis. So many foods are genetically modified, have hormones pumped into them, or are tainted with chemicals during production — in fact, Kluger shares that the average American has 212 chemicals found in their blood. Yikes!

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What Kluger shares is that any of these chemicals are able to disturb the endocrine system’s natural functioning by mimicking the hormones, blocking them, or changing the way they are produced. This can lead to pre-mature puberty in young girls as well.

The Solution?

Doctors have been speculating on ways to “fix” this problem — including doing nothing, medicating young girls with drugs to fix their hormones, and finally, changing their diets and exercise.  It may be just me, but I think the latter might be the best option. While I believe there could be cases where diet and exercise is not a factor (ie: genetics), I really do believe it is the biggest factor in this problem occurring with young girls. Chemicals/hormones can also be partially eliminated if eating a “cleaner” diet. I am definitely not saying all the problems in the world will be fixed if people ate better, but I would be interested to see what would happen with these girls and the age that puberty started if they were to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Time to weigh in — what do you think about the younger onset age of puberty in girls? What do you think is causing this to occur?

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