Healthy Family | Home Safety | Health and Wealth | Relationship Issues | Career Advice | Growing Family
Get the SixWise e-Newsletter FREE!
Google Web
Free Newsletter Subscription
Get the Web's Most trusted & Informative Health, Wealth, Safety & More Newsletter -- FREE!


Share Email to a Friend Print This

Girls Hitting Puberty at Younger & Younger Ages: Experts Say Exposure to Plastics and Insecticides M

n the 19th century, it was common for girls to reach the age of menstruation around 17. In 1960, it was between the ages of 12 and 13. Today in 2005, normal ages for a girl to reach puberty are between 9 and 16, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, a groundbreaking study conducted back in 1997 made a startling discovery: girls appear to be reaching puberty at younger and younger ages.

The study included data from 225 physicians who recorded the growth of over 17,000 girls. It was found that:

  • Over 27 percent of African-American girls, and 6.7 percent of white girls showed signs of puberty including breast or pubic hair development by the age of 7.

  • By the age of 8, 48.3 percent of African-American girls and 14.7 percent of white girls had one or both of these characteristics.

  • By the age of 3, 1 percent of whites and 3 percent of African-Americans had such characteristics.

Young Girls

A small percentage of girls are reaching puberty as young as 3 years old.

Dr. Marcia E. Herman-Giddens, the lead author of the study, had this to say:

"The reason I did this study is that in my clinical practice, I was seeing a lot of young girls coming in with pubic hair and breast development, and it seemed like there were too many, too young. But I don't think any of us expected to see such a large proportion of girls developing this early."

The Environmental Debate

The study suggested that environmental chemicals that mimic hormones might be involved in their findings.

"The possibility that the increasing use of certain plastics and insecticides that degrade into substances that have estrogen-related physiological effects on living things should be investigated in relation to the earlier onset of puberty," the researchers said.

Specifically, those chemicals include DDE, a breakdown of the pesticide DDT, and compounds used to make plastics, including bisphenol A, or BPA, and phthalates.

In Puerto Rico for example, early breast development--even in children as young as 2--is an increasing problem. A study in the area found that 41 girls who developed early had higher phthalate levels in their blood than 35 girls who developed at a normal age.

Where are these chemicals found? Plastic wrap, plastic storage containers and toys contain phthalates that can outgas into your food and air. With toys, small children may put them in their mouths and ingest phthalates that way. However, personal care products, including nail polish, mascara, fragrances, shampoos and conditioners, lotions, hair growth formulations, antiperspirants, and sunscreen, are a large exposure source. Gum, candy and oral pharmaceuticals can also contain them.

And, "Thanks to their mothers' exposure, even babies in the womb have measurable doses of the hormone-mimicking chemicals," said Theo Colborn, author of "Our Stolen Future," a book on endocrine disrupters.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

Baby Feeding

Bisphenol A may leach from clear plastic baby bottles.

"We have widespread exposure to bisphenol-A. It's in practically everything. It's been found in blood throughout the Northern hemisphere," said Colborn.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BPA--over 6 billion tons are used each year--is found in 95 percent of people tested. Animal studies have linked low doses of BPA to:

  • Structural damage to the brain

  • Hyperactivity

  • Abnormal sexual behavior

  • Increased fat formation

  • Early puberty

  • Disrupted reproductive cycles

"Since these substances are known to disrupt in animals, it's hard to imagine they wouldn't in humans," said Colborn.

However, industry and independent studies have found drastically differing findings, raising the question of whether a conflict of interest is at play.

Frederick vom Saal, a developmental biologist at the University of Missouri, reviewed 115 studies about bisphenol A. While more than 90 percent of the studies conducted by independent scientists found adverse consequences, 11 out of 11 studies conducted by the chemical industry did not.

Child Obesity Another Culprit

With increasing numbers of kids battling overweight and obesity, fat has become another theory as to why girls are reaching puberty early.

Factors in overweight children, such as increased amounts of insulin, an increased ability to convert hormones into estrogen, and an increased ability to store toxins in fat may all contribute to early puberty.

The Real Damage of Early Puberty

Girls who reach puberty early have an increased risk of breast cancer later in life.

"If you have a longer exposure to estrogen, the higher the chance you'll develop breast cancer," says Herman-Giddens.

But there's another risk to girls, one of their ability to handle a mature body at an immature age.

"From a psychosocial standpoint, you have a child who looks sexually mature at an age where they can't make judgments associated with their physical appearance. That's what really worries the family," explains Dr. Gilbert August, a pediatric endocrinologist in Washington, D.C.

Says Herman-Giddens, "This is a serious public health issue. It's the canary in the coal mine."

Tips to Limit Your Exposure to These Chemicals

  • Store your food in glass containers instead of plastic.

  • Don't reheat your food in plastic containers or covered in plastic wrap.

  • Look for phthalate-free plastic toys and containers.

  • Choose natural, chemical-free personal care items.

Recommended Reading

Why are More Boys than Girls Being Born?

Organophosphates: What You Don't Know Can Indeed Hurt You


Pediatrics Vol. 99 No. 4 April 1997, pp. 505-512

True Health

USA Today: Early Puberty

USA Today: Debate Over a Leaching Plastics Chemical Heat Up

Global Healing Center: Puberty Too Early

Girls are Reaching Puberty Early

To get more information about this and other highly important topics, sign up for your free subscription to our weekly "Be Safe, Live Long & Prosper" e-newsletter.

With every issue of the free newsletter, you’ll get access to the insights, products, services, and more that can truly improve your well-being, peace of mind, and therefore your life!

Share Email to a Friend Print This