Smart Woman: Are Girls Hitting Puberty Younger? - WSET.com - ABC13

Smart Woman: Are Girls Hitting Puberty Younger?

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Lynchburg, VA - It's the "awkward phase" we all remember, but for many young girls, puberty is happening sooner than expected.

In fact, it's hitting girls a year sooner than it did ten years ago.

Does it seem like sexy is getting younger and younger?

"I see girls now and I think they must be 18, and it turns out they're like in ninth or tenth grade," said Abby Hollander from the Washington Ashington University School of Medicine. "You can see the innocence in the face underneath all the makeup."

But it may be more than just how they look. New research shows girls are hitting puberty younger than ever before.

"The bulk of evidence shows, at least in part, it is due to girls gaining weight earlier," Hollander

The study found African American girls started developing breasts before age nine. For Hispanic girls, it was nine years and four months. For white and Asian girls, it was nine years and eight months. The heavier girls started developing at younger ages.

"Due to a lot of intake of poorly nutritious, high calorie foods, fast foods, reduced activities," Hollander said.

Other research has shown substances in the environment may be contributing to earlier puberty. Chemicals such as phthalates and BPA, which are found in some plastics, are known to be endocrine disrupters. Also, lavender and tea tree oils may act as hormones.

"We see young babies that are one and two years old that have been using the lavender bath soap and have developed breast tissue as a result of that," Hollander said.

Early puberty has been linked to psychosocial problems, risky behaviors and depression. Girls who start their periods earlier are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. Because puberty causes the body to make estrogen earlier, growth may be affected.

"Does this mean that they're going to stop their growth at an early age and not really get to be as tall as they had a genetic potential to be?" Hollander said.

It's a phenomenon that researchers hope to learn more about so our girls can focus on being girls longer.

A recent study also found signs of puberty in American boys was up to two years earlier than previously reported.

On average, African American boys hit puberty at age nine. For whites and Hispanics, it was age 10.

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