Overweight Girls at Risk of Early Puberty
Girls in the United States are entering puberty at younger and younger ages says a study published in Pediatrics. Breast development is the first marker of the onset of puberty in girls. Researchers documented that in 2010, 10.4% of seven-year-old Caucasian girls, 23.4% of African-American girls, and 14.9% of Hispanic girls had begun breast development. By age eight, the percentages had gone up to 18.3, 42.9, and 30.9. "The proportion of girls who had breast development at ages 7 and 8 years, particularly among white girls, is greater than that reported from studies of girls who were born 10 to 30 years earlier," the researchers concluded. What is driving this trend?
Overweight and obesity is one contributor to early sexual development. Dr. John McDougall explains the connection: "Male hormones called androstenedione made in the adrenal gland and ovaries are converted in the fat cells into estrogen." The more fat cells in a girl's body, the more estrogen is produced. Estrogen is the primary female hormone which surges at puberty and is responsible for breast development. However, nature's original design was for the ovaries to produce the estrogen which would initiate puberty. When a young girl is overweight or obese, the excess fat cells essentially "beat the ovaries to it." The fat cells flood the system with estrogen earlier than scheduled, but the body works just as designed. When the breast tissue receives the estrogen "signal," development begins regardless of the girl's age.
Our article "Can Diet Influence the Onset of Early Puberty" discusses several other factors that contribute to precocious puberty as well as the social, emotional, and physical implications which early puberty carries. Despite the causes, the solution is largely the same. A diet devoid of added oil, processed/fast food and meat and dairy, yet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and some nuts/seeds will keep growing bodies strong and trim and away from the factors which contribute to early puberty. If getting your children to eat an optimal diet is a challenge, you may find some helpful tips in the article on encouraging children to eat the right foods. It may take a little effort, but helping them to maintain a healthy weight is one of the most important things we can do to ensure their wellbeing for now and for the future.
John McDougall MD Links