Ask your grandmother when she hit puberty. Then ask your mother. Ask other women in your family. Do you notice a pattern?
Yes. In recent years, girls have been developing at younger ages. Today, it is not uncommon to see middle school girls who look like grown women. But why?
Some investigators point to obesity as part of the explanation for this trend. Although that is far from conclusive, it seems to be an important factor. However, we also suspect that exposure to some chemicals in the environment may contribute to earlier puberty in girls.
I was part of a team led by Mary Wolff, PhD, that investigated the relationship between exposure to chemicals found in personal care products and signs of puberty in a group of African-American and Latina girls. In that study, we recruited girls at 6-8 years of age and followed them over time, assessing their exposure to chemicals, their BMI, diet, and puberty development.
A new study published by Dr. Brenda Eskenazi's team assessed whether exposure to these chemicals before birth could also lead to changes in puberty in children. Their study found that exposure to chemicals commonly found in personal care products may cause early signs of puberty in girls, but not in boys. The chemicals that they measured in this new study were phthalates, parabens and triclosan.
I was asked by journalist Lisa Rapaport to comment on this new study for Reuters, the news organization. Here is my quote: “The effects of these chemicals are very complex,” said Dr. Luz Claudio of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “Their effects on the hormonal system is different with different chemicals, they have different potencies, their effects can be modulated by other factors such as genetic predisposition, and importantly, their effects can be different depending on the timing of the exposure,” Claudio, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “With that said, this and other studies, together with the laboratory experimental evidence point to potential effects on children.”
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.