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Girls Are Entering
Puberty Earlier Than Ever

Girls in Denmark are now entering puberty more than a year earlier than they were 15 years ago.

Although there is a naturally wide range in the age that healthy girls enter puberty, a new study finds the age may be shifting younger for the entire population.

The shift toward a younger age is of concern because it exposes girls to hormones for more of their life and may lead to damaging behavioral changes.

Earlier puberty is associated with increased risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and polycystic ovarian syndrome later in life. Girls experiencing early puberty may also be more likely to exhibit delinquent behaviors, substance abuse and sexual risk-taking.

Possible explanations for this shift are that hormonally active chemicals in our homes and environment are leading to earlier sexual development in children.

Several studies in the U.S. have suggested that breast development in girls has been occurring earlier. However, these studies were comparing their results to the results of separate studies performed in the past and using different measurement methods. In girls, the beginning of breast development signifies the onset of puberty.

Researchers in this study examined more than 1,000 school girls in Copenhagen in 1991-1993. They then recruited and examined almost 1,000 more girls in 2006-2008 using the same methods. When the earlier group was compared with the later group, the results confirm that the age of breast development is, indeed, earlier.

Average age at first breast development was 10.9 years old in 1991-1993 but was 9.9 years old in 2006-2008. Age at first menstruation and age at first pubic hair development were also younger in 2006-2008, but only by 0.2-0.3 years.

Overall, the effect of earlier breast development was much stronger than other stages of puberty. Although puberty often occurs earlier in overweight girls, this finding persisted even when the authors took weight into account.


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