More Girls Entering Puberty Early, Study Finds

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Girls are maturing earlier than ever. Credit: Getty Images


Girl, you'll be a woman soon. Sooner than you thought.

A new study finds that U.S. girls are entering puberty at younger ages than in the past. Early maturity is a public health concern because studies have shown that these girls are more likely to eventually develop breast and uterine cancer, CNN reports.

The study finds that nearly 25 percent of black girls and 15 percent of Hispanic girls had entered puberty by age 7. White girls mature more slowly, but the study finds that more than 10 percent of white 7-year-old girls had started puberty by age 7, up from 5 percent in a similar study conducted in the early 1990s, according to CNN.

Dr. Frank Biro, the study's lead author and director of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, says it's unclear why girls are entering puberty earlier, but researchers are looking at several potential factors, including genes and environment, Medical News Today reports.

"Breast cancer is such a common problem, so if we can find some of the things that make it more likely, we could improve screening of those early developers," says Dr. Susan Nickel, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, who was not part of the study.

The study, published in Pediatrics, is an analysis of data on 1,239 girls between the ages of 6 and 8 from East Harlem in New York, the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area and the San Francisco Bay area in California, Medical News Today reports. The study was conducted in the mid-2000s.

In addition to the health concerns associated with early puberty, there are emotional social ramifications, as well.

"If an 11- or 12-year-old girl looks like she's 16, people will interact with her as if she were 16," Biro says. "Early maturation increases the rate of risk-taking behaviors and lowers academic performance. It doesn't mean it's going to happen, but it could."

The authors noted that the study was not representative of all girls in the United States, and they will continue to study this population, Medical News Today reports.

Related: Who Loves Ya, Baby? Kids of Extra-Affectionate Moms Are Better Adjusted Adults, Study Says

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.