Early Puberty and the Environment

Have you noticed girls are “blooming” earlier and earlier?  According to a new study, almost one in four black girls and one in 10 white girls in the U.S. had developed breasts by the age of seven.  SEVEN.  My daughter will be in first grade when she’s seven.  First graders should not have breasts already!

By age 8, the numbers are worse, almost 1 in 2 black girls and 1 in 5 white girls.   These numbers are getting worse.  In 1997, the proportion of white girls that had developed breasts by age seven was 5% – so in just 13 years, the number has doubled.

Early puberty is linked to early sexual experiences, low self-esteem, higher risk of eating problems,  depression, suicide, and a greater risk of breast cancer.

So what is causing this alarming trend?

There are several possible causes: the environment and childhood obesity.

One of the top environmental concerns are endocrine disruptors – chemicals that act on hormones to change bodily functions.  Bisphenol-A (BPA) sound familiar?  If not, you can read more about this chemical in plastics here, here and here.  If you drink soda – you’re ingesting a little BPA.  If you have old baby bottles (older than 2008 or so) – you’re feeding your child a little BPA.

The other endocrine disruptor commonly found in plastics are phthalates.  Phthalates are everywhere. Personal care products like perfume and nail polish,  vinyl floors, vinyl upholstery, toys, paints, packaging, detergents and even medication.   Just researching this post, I found that the medication I take to control my Crohn’s Disease is covered in a coating containing phthalates and since I’m taking large quantities per day, let’s just say my internal alarms are flying off the hook.

One other interesting finding in the study was that the prevalence of early puberty was different amongst regions.  Girls in San Francisco were found to have a lower rate (11.6%) than girls in New York (15.3%) and girls in Cincinnati (18.9%).  This could be due to San Francisco’s reputation as an area for healthy eating, exercise, low plastics and chemical use.

Let’s keep our little girls, just that. Little girls.  Not concerned about bras, sexual experiences or obsessed with their image.    Free to have tea parties with their friends, ride bikes through the neighborhood and run unabashedly through the sprinkler.



  1. You’re right – this is such an alarming trend! Isn’t early onset puberty also connected with higher rates of cervical cancer? (Or did I make that up?) And what is so scary is that BPA is so pervasive that its hard to avoid for even those of us who know all about the dangers…nevermind those people who don’t realize how dangerous it is. And since that BPA/receipt report came out I feel like wearing gloves when I go shopping so that I don’t touch those BPA receipts! We need our laws reformed!!! (ps FYI – I couldn’t get the BPA links in your post to work.)

  2. It is insane how many things have BPA that you don’t even think about! I did a post last year listing many of the ways you can come in contact with it, but since then the list has grown, I should update it soon!

  3. To the first commenter, I’d say you shloud never worry about being that mom. Speak up and let your director know about your feelings about the snacks. I am a Bright Horizons employee and a Bright Horizons parent. Our center used to have snacks similar to what you describe, and when a new director came in, she made it part of her mission to change things. It was simple. They may not be able to serve exactly what each parents wants, but they can offer better options. Different centers offer different snacks, so it’s a very easy change for your director to make. Just let her know her feelings and the feelings of others.

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