A new European study has found that girls are entering puberty earlier than just 15 years ago, causing scientists to speculate about the role endocrine-disrupting chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) may be playing in such a dramatic shift in human development.
Strong historical data related to the age girls enter puberty is limited, which has caused disagreement between Europeans and Americans as to whether a shift is really underway, according to a story in the New York Times.
But this new study, which shows a dramatic change in 15 years, confirms what many parents can already see – girls are developing younger than ever.
According to the Times:
Danish researchers showed a pronounced change in the onset of breast development in just a 15-year period. The University of Copenhagen scientists tracked breast development among 2,095 girls between the ages of 5-and-a-half and 20. They compared 1,100 girls studied between 1991 and 1993 to a set of 995 similarly-aged girls studied between 2006 and 2008.
In the early 1990s, girls experienced early breast development at the average age of 10.88 years. Now, that development occurs on average at 9.86 years – a full year earlier.
While historical shifts in puberty appear largely due to improved health and living conditions, the more recent changes in earlier breast development are more worrisome. Studies have documented that a number of chemicals, such as bisphenol-A used to make hard clear plastic containers, may act as endocrine disruptors and have estrogenic effects on the body.
The earlier a girl enters puberty, the more complex health and social issues she is likely to face.
The concern is that early puberty is linked with higher breast cancer risk in adulthood. Early puberty has also been linked with social problems and depression, and is associated with high-risk behaviors in adolescence such as alcohol and drug use and unprotected sex.
Safer Coalition organizations across the U.S. are pushing for statewide bans that would get BPA out of food and drink containers intended for children 3 and under. Click here to learn the latest on the progress of these bills.