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Early Puberty, High Risk
American girls are starting puberty younger and younger—but the trend is most extreme for black girls, according to a new report from ecologist Sandra Steingraber and the Breast Cancer Fund. The finding is especially alarming because earlier puberty increases breast cancer risk.
The report describes puberty as a delicate process easily set off balance by psychological or social stress, chemical exposure and obesity. To reverse the early-puberty trend and cut breast cancer risk, says Steingraber, these factors must be addressed.
The new report delivers a list of disturbing findings:
- Today’s girls develop breasts an average of one to two years earlier than girls of 40 years ago. The mean age is about 10 years for white girls and 9 years for black girls, with 14 percent on average attaining breast buds before age 9.
- At age 10, black girls are three times as likely as white girls to have begun menstruating.
- Early onset of menstruation increases a girl’s risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
- Girls who mature early are also more likely to become depressed or anxious, have eating disorders or attempt suicide.
In addition to helping girls curb weight and better monitor nutrition, says Steingraber, we must test chemicals before they enter the marketplace for their ability to interfere with the endocrine system. She also argues for full disclosure of ingredients in consumer products (especially children’s products), more complete inventories of emissions and better monitoring of air, food and drinking water. Since children don’t produce the disruptive hormones naturally, she notes, even trace amounts of hormonally active chemicals can have a huge impact on their development.