Why are girls growing up so soon?

May 17, 2012, 06:15 IST | Sakshi Goel

Girls are reaching puberty at an earlier age, forcing them and their communities to face the physiological, psychological and social impact. Why delaying the early onset of puberty can help your daughter lead a longer, healthier life

According to a study conducted in the US shows 23.4% of black girls, 14.9% of Hispanics and 10.4% of white girls are developing breasts ” a sign of puberty ” as early as the age of seven. It lists obesity and environmental factors such as the presence of endocrine-inhibiting chemicals like bisphenol A and Phthalates in our foods.

While in India the average age for puberty in urban areas continues to be around eleven, "it is not unknown for us to see Menarche (first menstrual bleeding) as early as seven or eight," says Dr Rajeev Punjabi, Mumbai-based gynaecologist.

He adds that major culprits are pollutants in our food that play havoc with our endocrinal glands, the changing social environment, which forces a static lifestyle causing obesity, and early exposure to un-monitored sexual knowledge. Stress, both at school and at the home, also disturbs a child's hormonal patterns and can be linked to premature puberty.

Unlike the developed world where the phenomenon is present across the population, in India this tends to be an urban phenomenon, according to Dr Bhave a paedeatric endocrinologist.

This is because young girls in towns and cities have a higher risk of consuming contaminated food, being sedentary, and facing stress at home.

Awareness is the key
Unfortunately, social taboos and secrecy surrounding puberty mean that its early onset is often not dealt with as a medical issue, and neither do we have sufficient educational and medical infrastructure to reach all the children who face this problem.

Long-term health effects of the early onset of puberty, marked by menarche and bodily changes like growth of breasts, can range from heavy bleeding, breast cancer to a confused body image, depression, and also a higher risk of diseases like diabetes and hypertension (mainly because of its link to obesity). These girls are also more likely to be targets of sexual exploitation by older men and young boys from high school.

While it is difficult to control larger environmental factors affecting puberty, there is still a lot parents can do to help delay the onset of puberty. These can range from providing a loving home, emphasis on exercise, and an open and sensible discussion about sexuality.

Exercise, Exercise
Obese children have higher levels of the puberty inducing hormone Estrogen. Engage them in fun activities like swimming skipping, hopscotch

Eat right
As far as possible eat clean fruits and vegetables and use glass vessels in the microwave as vs. plastics

Make children aware
Talk to your children about growing up and sexuality so they are ready to deal with information they get outside the home

Reduce stress for your children
Set correct expectations of school grades and provide a loving environment at home that will keep their hormones balanced 

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