Reporter: Danner Evans l Videographer: Brian Whitesell
Lynchburg, VA - Little girls are literally turning into women faster -- reaching puberty at an earlier age than they used to.
Precocious puberty is when children have the appearance of pubic hair or breasts before the age of 8, or start their period before the age of 9. It impacts at least 1 in 5,000 children in the U.S. and that rate is on the rise.
Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Patricia Powers is watching the trend of precocious puberty -- the new normal for growing girls.
"I think this is a concerning trend," Powers said.
One study in the journal Pediatrics reveals that by age 7, 10% of white girls, 23% of black girls, 15% of Hispanic girls and 2% of Asian girls started developing breasts
Powers said there are number of contributing factors.
"One of them is weight," Powers explained. "The heavier you are the more fat tissue in the person, the more that fat tissue produces estrogen and estrogen can cause breast development in boys and girls."
Another problem is the environmental chemicals that mimic estrogen, like BPA found in plastics. Even pesticides used to grow food.
"Because we are exposed to so many more of these chemicals over time, from in utero on I think that is one of the reasons we are seeing earlier signs of estrogen which is breast development earlier, and earlier and earlier," Power said.
Precocious puberty in and of itself isn't necessarily dangerous for our children, but Dr. Powers said what contributes to it can cause problems later on in life - like decreased fertility in men and increase risk of breast cancer in women.
"I want parents to be aware of the chemicals in their child's environment. Organic is better as much as possible. Get rid of the soft plastic containers in your house unless you know they are BPA free, or just go to microwaving in glass or ceramic."
Family stress can significantly speed up puberty too.
Powers recommends the following links if you'd like to learn more about precocious puberty: