There’s always a new “normal” and this time it’s girls getting their periods earlier.
Does it feel like society is turning into Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or is it just me ? When I was in 4th grade I remember being traumatized when I discovered that boys my age were already fantasizing about sex. I peered over at the notes my desk-mate was passing over to his friend and saw something I didn’t want to see (sex). By junior high school the cool kids were already “doing it”. Me? I was still waiting for my period in “Are You There God ? It’s Me, Margaret” style. This was 15 years ago.
In the year 1928, American girls, on average, were getting their periods around 13.9 years old. This average dropped to 12.8 in the 1970s. Today, the average age is approximately 12.5 years old. Scientists argue over the reasons, whether it even means that puberty has begun, and so on and so forth. But, the general consensus is that the cause of girls getting their periods earlier is due to obesity, stress, and chemical exposures.
The statistics on childhood obesity are shocking to say the least. In the last 30 years, obesity has tripled with 20-25% of children are obese (not overweight, OBESE). So how is obesity related to earlier periods? Fat cells make estrogen. If your fat cells increase, the more estrogen your body produces. Estrogen being the main sex hormone for females means it can trigger an earlier period. Though the link has not been proven, there is significant evidence that girls that are obese tend to reach puberty earlier than non-obese girls. Dr. Julie Powell, a Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecologist, says that young girls should maintain a healthy diet and a healthy weight. They should make a healthy effort to avoid the accumulation of certain chemicals in our lives and in our foods.
Scientists are trying to determine if and how the chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis could be a cause. Found in everything from beauty products to food, these chemicals can accumulate in our bodies and alter hormones. Animal studies demonstrate that exposure to environmental chemicals, particularly endocrine-disruptors, can act as steroid hormones and alter the onset of puberty. Another concern is the effect of continuous exposure to the compound BPA, traces of which were found in 93% of Americans. In the 1950s, manufacturers began putting BPA in hard plastics and today at least a million pounds are released into the environment annually.
Girls who live in a high-stress home environment such as parents going through a divorce, domestic violence, or sexual abuse are more likely to start their periods early. Research shows that stress triggers an emergency response in the brain – the response being to reproduce. How that makes any sense? I’m not quite sure.
So what should parents do? Parents of children going through early puberty should focus on their child’s emotional and physical health rather than slowing down their development. A pediatric endocrinologist, Louise Greenspan, says parents should treat children their age not the age they look. Parents should also let kids be kids and defend against a culture that sexualizes young girls.
Written By: Andrea Lee, @organicbeautylover