The Falling Age of Puberty

I knew that average age of menarche (first time a girl menstruates) has fallen in the past century or so — the average used to be more like 14 or 15 and now it’s something like 12 or younger. What I didn’t know was how many factors go into the age at which a girl gets her period:

  • overweight and obesity — not totally surprising — girls and women who are too thin to support a pregnancy may not ovulate or menstruate, so it would make sense that the reverse would be true
  • endocrine-disrupting chemicals: “These include chemicals we are commonly exposed to in cosmetics, shampoos, cleaning products, baby bottles and children’s teething toys.” Makes me shudder. I’ve been exposed to a lot of people who shun the average cleaners and such on the store shelves, reaching for the “natural” products at health food stores and such, or just grabbing a big bottle of vinegar with a big box of baking soda to clean just about everything. Reading this makes me more likely to do the same.
  • premature birth and low birth weight — interesting that being born at a low weight and/or too early might make you start your period earlier; not sure what to do about it though! It’s not like many women choose to have their babies prematurely without a very good reason!
  • psychosocial stressors — okay, anything that says “stress” is believable that it would alter menstruation, but this was quite intriguing: “These stressors, including the absence of a father in the home and family dysfunction, also disrupt the endocrine system and are possible contributing factors to early puberty” [emphasis mine]. Yes, fathers are important — I just didn’t realize it could affect menarche!
  • formula feeding — quite plausible! — “Breastfeeding appears to protect against early puberty in two ways: by contributing fewer calories than formula and by offering hormones and other growth factors that may protect against early puberty.”
  • physical inactivity — seems to relate to the first point
  • television viewing and media use — also seems to relate to the first point and the last one

Quite an interesting link! h/t to Bethany Midwives for the initial link


7 Responses

  1. I was just thinking about this topic this morning. I hope my girls will be later than sooner in this area. It sounds like obesity is a huge factor, huh? I had never heard that before reading your post. I have seen quite a few overweight 7 years olds (or younger) developing in areas they shouldn’t at such a young age. Sad.

  2. I started at 12 and the only categories you could make arguments for my fitting under were the incredible broad and vauge chemicals, psychosocial stressors (a mildly depressed mother and a brother with undiagnosed asperger’s syndrome), and television viewing and media use (I had access to the family computer from a very young age but remained pretty physically active as well). On the other hand, I came from an intact, mostly psychologically healthy home, was a big, “post-term” baby but a skinny child/preteen, and was (to the best of my knowledge) breastfed. It would be interesting to more of what the research was on this.

    • I started when I was 12, as well, with no obvious factors for the above, except being a little overweight (I’ve always felt fat, compared to others; looking back at pictures, though, I feel like I was probably close to “normal”), I was weaned to formula at 5 months, and had the “normal” exposure to chemicals for someone my age. My mom started her period when she was 10 and a half! (With no major contributing factors that I know of, except probably formula-feeding, based on the prevalence of it in the culture when she was a baby.)

      • My mother started her period when she was 10. I was 12. I really hope that my daughters will follow me and not my mother!

        Two other contributing factors…hormones in meat and genetics.

  3. I wonder if the growth hormones fed to meat/milk-producing animals has anything to do with it? I guess I’d always assumed there must be a connection!

    I didn’t get my period til I was in 9th grade – late 14yo; it felt like I was one of othe l.a.s.t. ones to get it. Now I can only wish the same for my daughter. So far, she doesn’t fit any of the categories except the fact that I’m sure she’s been exposed to some of the chemicals.

    I’ve talked to people who have daughters who got their period at nine. I have to think that would be pretty miserable. My bf in middle/high school got hers in fifth grade (early developing family vs. my family of late-bloomers) and talks about how embarassing it was, esp b/c back then they had bathrooms in the classroom and she was very anxious that someone would find out.

  4. I started at 11.
    Think think people forget all the hormones in our meat and diary products that are given to encourage milk production, muscle growth etc… It is in the farmer’s best intrest to have the animals come to quick maturity…just not ours

  5. Soy and soy based products and soy based dairy and meat products (because animals are fed so much soy)are top on my list of concern for this – due to phyto-estrogens, but also other issues. Obesity would be second on my list.

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