Girls are hitting puberty earlier, and it’s not entirely clear why

Children are less and less children. The onset of puberty and the transition to adolescence are thought to progress, three months per decade since 1970 and the cause is currently unknown, although several options are being considered.

In boys it is less noticeable, but in girls puberty occurs even earlier 6 or 7 years, but from the time when the mammary bud develops in them to the appearance of menstruation, an average of five years pass. In the mid-20th century, minors began to develop at 9 or 10, with the rule coming at 14 or 15, when now breasts grow before 8 and the average age of menarche is 11.5 years.

“Puberty has been going on for centuries. It’s hard to find a single cause,” says Dr. Maria Jesus Senyal, secretary of the Spanish Society of Adolescent Medicine, who in his forty years of pediatric career has been able to witness this precocious puberty first hand.

good and bad nutrition

Among the reasons that endocrinologists and pediatricians around the world it has been found, for example, that children now have a better diet overall than they did a century ago. The necessary nutrients prepare the body for its development and the organism matures for reproduction. Malnutrition and eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa or anorexiaThey delay the transition from childhood to adolescence.

However, especially in the United States, this phenomenon has been analyzed in children who were obese and overweight. A 2003 study found that overweight girls were more likely to get their period earlier than younger girls, while a later 2009 study found that boys and girls with higher scores were more likely to have body mass at age 7 years early puberty.

chemicals

Chemical products to which children are exposed, especially through cosmetics or pesticides, were also identified in this search for culprits. “They act like endocrine disruptorswhich the body recognizes as hormones and pre-empts puberty,” explains Dr. Ceñal.

Phthalates, parabens, bisphenols, triclosan, benzophenones… are ingredients that are found in many, many different products for daily use – apart from pesticides, also in Sunscreen productsperfumes, food additives or plastic containers, among others – which alter the normal hormonal cycle and cause this early development in children, although they also work in adults.

But not only what children are exposed to, but so are their mothers when they are still in the belly, this can have an effect on their growth cycle. A 2018 Aarhus University study notes that taking painkillers during pregnancy can cause a girl to have early puberty.

the pandemic

In 2020, there was a rise in reported cases of early puberty. “To blame him for the pandemic is a little premature,” says the secretary of the The Spanish Society of Adolescent Medicine. Since then, however, two studies have been published that mark a path for us to follow so that we can study the effect of covid, albeit the virus, but on the new habits that children have acquired after birth.

A study of 490 children in Italy linked sedentary lifestyle with this precocious puberty during the pandemic, and another showed that blue light from mobile and tablet screens can cause melatonin levels to drop and ultimately alter hormone levels that cause the pituitary gland, the gland at the base of the skull that regulates development or sexual activity – starts earlier than it should.

should I be worried

Although it’s not something parents should worry about, Dr. Ceñal reminds those who see it in their children to take them to a doctor just to rule out any underlying disease. In 99% of cases it is healthy girlsbut there are some pathologies other than obesity that cause this phenomenon, such as hyperthyroidism, congenital adrenal hyperplasia or the appearance of tumors that produce hormones.

It seems somewhat counterintuitive that the age at which the body matures to be able to have offspring is decreasing, but in practice the time to bear children comes later in women’s lives. The average is 32.2 years. Ceñal points out that “we seem to be going against our own nature, which tells us this every time we can have children beforebut we have them later and later».

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