Puberty Blues
July 31, 2010 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Puberty Blues - Hayley Smith started developing breasts when she was five. A year later, she had her first period. “It was awful,” her mother says. “There was so much ignorance. People treated her differently—Hayley didn’t really have a childhood. You just don’t expect to have to talk to your six-year-old daughter about having periods.” The evidence from Denmark suggests that Hayley’s experience could soon be commonplace. Most paediatric endocrinologists now agree that the age of puberty is falling fast in developed nations. But there is no consensus on why.
posted by heatherann (92 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe that means old age and senility will come sooner as well. The cultural choices of many of today's teenagers and young adults* lead me to believe this has already happened.

*working in a bookstore has made me despise the term 'young adult.' A 22-year old is a young adult. Those books are aimed at 12-year olds, who are not young adults but elderly children.
posted by jonmc at 1:28 PM on July 31, 2010 [9 favorites]


Lavendar and tea tree made boys gros breasts? So much of my soap is one of the 2.
posted by k8t at 1:36 PM on July 31, 2010


This is a direct result of society's phobia of paedophiles: those depraved perverts who are excited by sexually immature children can be defeated simply by ensuring that puberty starts as early as possible. My wife and I are expecting a baby boy soon, and as soon as little Tarquin's popped out of mummy's tummikins, I'll be doing everything I can to make his testicles descend. And from there it's just a short step to child labour, and we can get the bloody chimney cleaned too. So everyone wins - except Reginald, the village nonce. Hooray for us developed nations!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:39 PM on July 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


.
posted by erniepan at 1:47 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Elderly children books" doesn't have the same ring as "young adult". And that's really what it's all about, "young adult", it's what everyone wants to be: youthful and adult. Evolutionary pressures are favoring younger puberty.
posted by stbalbach at 1:48 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


This happened to a friend's daughter at age 7 or so. They had her on some sort of hormone treatment to delay the onset till a more "normal" age, I think.
posted by maxwelton at 1:50 PM on July 31, 2010


If by "evolutionary pressures" you mean crap diet and chemical poisoning, then well yeah.
posted by localroger at 1:52 PM on July 31, 2010 [19 favorites]


FDA Links Hormone Spray to Breast Growth in Children NY Times

Most intriguing but unexplained line in that short article? "Pets have also been affected."
posted by found missing at 1:52 PM on July 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


According to this article, Hayley had medical problems before this, as she was diagnosed with diabetes at age 4. They are also running a photo of her -- now age 15, she looks like an average teenager.
posted by Houstonian at 1:55 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Evolutionary pressures are favoring younger puberty

Got any evidence for this? I didn't see any in the linked article, and your own short 'explanation' references sociocultural pressures, as far as I can tell.

Interesting post. I've never even heard of this problem, frankly.
posted by AdamCSnider at 1:57 PM on July 31, 2010


I may be wrong here but I believe this movement toward a lower age has been going on well before Mickey D's offered their fine cuisine, much as the general growth toward taller and taller Americans (see beds of colonials in museums)...
posted by Postroad at 1:57 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was 12, I'd much rather have been a 'young adult' than a child or, man alive, 'youngster'.

The youngest menarche I know of is ten - a girl at primary school. It was very educational to those of us who were waiting desperately to 'start'.
posted by mippy at 2:03 PM on July 31, 2010




I went to a very white school in a very white area of town when I was little. One of my friends was black (and was, in fact, the only black girl at my school at the time), and she started her period, complete with boobs, at age 9. Natually, I assumed that this happened because she was black, and that black girls just matured earlier than the rest of us boobless white girls. It wasn't until I was in middle school and snuck a look at one of those American Girl "My Body and Me" books a friend had (with diverse illustrations!) that I realized that was not the case.
posted by phunniemee at 2:10 PM on July 31, 2010


I may be wrong here but I believe this movement toward a lower age has been going on well before Mickey D's offered their fine cuisine, much as the general growth toward taller and taller Americans (see beds of colonials in museums)...

I wish I could find a cite for this, but I believe that the size of a lot of beds from that era had less to do with a low average height and more to do with the fact that people slept partly upright.
posted by invitapriore at 2:10 PM on July 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Among boys puberty, defined as an increase in testicular volume, began at around 11.2 years.

I don't want to know how they measured that.

Also, wasn't there a science fiction novel sometime in the last ten years or so that involved something like this? There were little changes in the characteristics of children globally, then there was a flu epidemic but the virus injected DNA into human genes somehow, then the new crop of children were all mutated and were smarter and faster and exhibited superior social coordination so someone declared martial law and put them all in concentration camps. My google-fu fails me.

Also, I had a full beard when I was fourteen. It was cool that the guy at the local convenience store said he wouldn't have carded me for beer.
posted by XMLicious at 2:11 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


XMLicious- Darwin's Radio?
posted by kittensofthenight at 2:29 PM on July 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


I thought we were blaming this on BPA?
posted by mecran01 at 2:31 PM on July 31, 2010


I remember seeing an article somewhere - my google-fu is failing me - that seemed to indicate that children from more chaotic home lives matured more quickly than those brought up in safe, stable homes.

I don't know if more of our children are living more disruptive lives these days, just trying to add another data point to the conversation.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 2:35 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting. My wife (now age 53) tells me her periods began when she was 11.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:36 PM on July 31, 2010


I'm fairly certain that beds are larger nowadays to accommodate the bigger testicles.
posted by found missing at 2:36 PM on July 31, 2010 [15 favorites]


It's not what's in the food, it is the abundance of it. (Relative abundance, that is. Overfeeding versus physical activity.) This has been a long increasing issue since long before BPAs and rbgh and so on.
posted by gjc at 3:02 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't want to know how they measured that.

It's not painful if the doc's hands aren't cold. They just feel around and compare the testicles to a standard orchidometer.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:06 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are so many studies showing that overweight or obese girls begin puberty earlier on average than other girls, but the article kind of brushes that off. I'm not saying that's the only reason, but it seems like a pretty simple explanation with strong evidence behind it that isn't some kind of controversial mystery reason.
posted by ishotjr at 3:07 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am 36 years old and about 5'10" or so.
When I was a lad 6 feet tall seemed to mean "tall"
As such I was on the high end of average height for people my age.
Nowadays I often (very often) see dudes in their early 20s hulking what seems to be a foot and a half to two feet taller than me.
Everyone is a frigging giant nowadays.

Do with this info what you will
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:08 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've heard it blamed on hormones used to raise chicken.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:10 PM on July 31, 2010


I wonder if there's a correlation between this and increased weight at infancy.

Babies seem like they're getting bigger all the time.

Then again, that could be due to a reduction in smoking moms.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:11 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or, smoking moms could be the explanation for more babies.
posted by found missing at 3:12 PM on July 31, 2010 [8 favorites]


It's not what's in the food, it is the abundance of it. (Relative abundance, that is. Overfeeding versus physical activity.) This has been a long increasing issue since long before BPAs and rbgh and so on.

Eating more food = earlier puberty or...?
posted by hamida2242 at 3:13 PM on July 31, 2010


mippy: The youngest menarche I know of is ten - a girl at primary school. It was very educational to those of us who were waiting desperately to 'start'.

I was nine. It was fairly traumatic; I was mortified and very much had the feeling that something was wrong. I definitely did not feel ready and this was not something I was looking forward to or was even vaguely aware was on my immediate personal horizon, the way my contemporaries who matured later at more "normal" times were.

I more or less felt like a portent of adulthood was being thrust upon me and was self aware enough to know that I was not anywhere near that mature. It was very alienating, and I do not recommend it.

Having said that, if scientists discover a gene or a predisposition or whatever, I do not think I would choose to treat a female child to delay the onset of puberty. I would however take care to reframe puberty and make it less about growing up and more about a step in the series of changes all bodies go through across an entire lifetime. That whole "and now you're a woman!" thing is crap and actually not that helpful at any age.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:15 PM on July 31, 2010 [14 favorites]


It's food abundance, plus the prevalence of cheap carbohydrates in that food, plus FSM knows what the chemical preservatives and additives are doing, plus environmental pollution, all of which add up to an environment far different than our ancestors faced. A quarter million years of evolution had fine-tuned Homo Sapiens to thrive in an environment of abundant forage and game, with occasional bounties of fruit and naturally occurring vegetables, and lots and lots and lots of walking. Evolution hasn't even begun to deal well with the fact that we're farming -- which is I think why adult-onset diabetes is so common and is more common the more recently your ancestors were introduced to farming -- but it hasn't even had a chance to blink yet at the shit we've done in the last century or so.
posted by localroger at 3:16 PM on July 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hence our short lifespans relative to our ancestors.
posted by found missing at 3:17 PM on July 31, 2010 [7 favorites]


Also this thread is incomplete without a link to this 1974 Ronnie Desmond classic.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:19 PM on July 31, 2010


In sows, age at puberty can be reduced by 20 to 30 days when gilts are exposed to boars beginning at 140 days of age. Perhaps this is caused by living in a more sexualized environment...
I'd rather blame the generally better nutrition, and particularly the decline in food pathogens due to higher food safety standards. Pathogens -> energy diverted from growth to strengthen the immune system.
posted by elgilito at 3:22 PM on July 31, 2010


kuujjuarapik, "orchidometer" is such a pleasant word. It sounds like something a grandmother might ask for at Home Depot, to make sure her flowers are healthy.

I was quite surprised to read that baroque composers could count on men with boys' voices until the age of 18. Lazy-minded folks who know a bit of history often suggest that kids are "supposed" to reproduce after age 12 or so, but this is only an aftereffect of the invention of agriculture. Foraging societies favor later sexual maturity and fewer children.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:29 PM on July 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


My mom (age 68) was 9. I (turning 36 tomorrow) was 14.

I always thought you got your period when you stopped your major growth spurt. I was pretty much my full height (5'7) at 14, so that made sense.

Stopping a major growth spurt at 6 seems improbable. My theory is ruined.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:31 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


*imagining Georg Phillipp Telemann foraging for his meals because agriculture has not yet been invented*
posted by found missing at 3:32 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


kittensofthenight, you've got it.

ATL - I wonder if there's a correlation between this and increased weight at infancy - It talks about this in the article.
posted by XMLicious at 3:32 PM on July 31, 2010


I can't believe no one has yet blamed the Internet.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:34 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lazy-minded folks who know a bit of history often suggest that kids are "supposed" to reproduce after age 12 or so, but this is only an aftereffect of the invention of agriculture.

It's the effect of the hyper elite who are inordinately concerned about purity and bloodlines, and a poor generalizations based on data about the hyper elite. The lower and middle/merchant classes in Europe rarely married or reproduced before they were physically mature (typically early 20s).
posted by Hildegarde at 3:35 PM on July 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are so many studies showing that overweight or obese girls begin puberty earlier on average than other girls,

Are there? Because I found this:
A number of recent reports suggest that the average age at menarche of US girls has declined over the past 20 years. Because the putative declines in the age at menarche are concurrent with increases in childhood body mass index (BMI), it has been suggested that these two trends may be causally linked. We examined differences in mean age of menarche in Fels Longitudinal Study girls who were born in six 10-year birth cohorts (1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s) and simultaneous cohort changes in mean BMI measured cross-sectionally at selected ages from 3-35 years (n = 371). Girls born in the 1980s had a mean age at menarche of 12.34 years, which was 3-6 months earlier than that of girls born previously (P <>

posted by rtha at 3:49 PM on July 31, 2010


Your body doesn't have a clock, at least nothing that can count the number of years. It actually just goes by weight and height. So early onset of puberty comes out of that. I think (although I'm not sure) that it's literally triggered by having a certain concentration of hormones in the body, which are generated by tissues. More tissue, more hormone, and eventually you get to the triggering level.

Here's what wikipedia says:
The onset of puberty is associated with high GnRH pulsing, which precedes the rise in sex hormones, LH and FSH.[9] Exogenous GnRH pulses cause the onset of puberty.[10] Brain tumors which increase GnRH output may also lead to premature puberty[11]

The cause of the GnRH rise is unknown. Leptin might be the cause of the GnRH rise. Leptin has receptors in the hypothalamus which synthesizes GnRH.[12] Individuals who are deficient in leptin fail to initiate puberty.
And Leptin is basically a fat hormone. It's produced by fat cells and your brain uses it to measure how fat you are and adjust your appitite.
Human leptin is a protein of 167 amino acids. It is manufactured primarily in the adipocytes of white adipose tissue, and the level of circulating leptin is directly proportional to the total amount of fat in the body.
---
If by "evolutionary pressures" you mean crap diet and chemical poisoning, then well yeah.

poisoning? Seriously? I suppose you think that the fact that kids are taller now is the resutl of "poison" and not "getting enough food" -- (or at least, as much food as they require to grow as much as they would in optimal conditions). Of course, you could argue that it's unnatural for people to grow up without want, and it kind of is. But that's not a bad thing and it's not the result of 'poisoning'.
Evolutionary pressures are favoring younger puberty
That's a pretty absurd thing to say. The only way evolutionary pressure could cause earlier pregnancy was if people who went through puberty earlier had more kids -- presumably by having them once they hit puberty. We know that isn't happening, especially in the first world.

What is happening is that people are growing more quickly, and therefore they undergo puberty earlier.

NO ONE is arguing that there is something wrong or weird with kids growing taller. But because this particular thing seems 'weird' or bad or whatever, people think the cause must be something weird or bad, rather then something good.

You could argue that kids are getting too much food, or the wrong types, but if you put a kid on a diet so sever that it stunts their growth, then it seems to me you're doing it wrong. Of course if it were being caused by kids being too fat, beyond simply growing taller then that could be the problem too.

---

If there was really "something" going on then the evidence would be that kids were having puberty onset at consistently lower weights/heights, not younger ages. It could be something causing unnatural Leptin levels, or unnatural sensitivity to the hormones that trigger puberty. But simply pointing to the declining age without correcting for increasing height and weight doesn't prove anything, other then that kids are eating more these days.
posted by delmoi at 3:54 PM on July 31, 2010 [7 favorites]


Borked that blockquote, didn't I?

In full: "A number of recent reports suggest that the average age at menarche of US girls has declined over the past 20 years. Because the putative declines in the age at menarche are concurrent with increases in childhood body mass index (BMI), it has been suggested that these two trends may be causally linked. We examined differences in mean age of menarche in Fels Longitudinal Study girls who were born in six 10-year birth cohorts (1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s) and simultaneous cohort changes in mean BMI measured cross-sectionally at selected ages from 3-35 years (n = 371). Girls born in the 1980s had a mean age at menarche of 12.34 years, which was 3-6 months earlier than that of girls born previously (P < 0.001). While the mean BMI values at ages 25 and 35 generally increased from the 1930s to the 1970s, the mean BMI during childhood and adolescence remained constant across the six birth cohorts. In summary, we found no evidence that the recent decline in the age at menarche in the Fels Longitudinal Study girls was reflected in concurrent increases in BMI at any point in childhood or adolescence. Conversely, girls born in the 1960s and 1970s have subsequently become heavier in young and mid-adulthood than were girls from earlier birth cohorts, without any concurrent change in the mean age at menarche over that time period. These two findings suggest that population-level shifts in BMI and the timing of menarche are largely independent, although sometimes coincident, processes. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 16:453-457, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc."
posted by rtha at 3:56 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know the science in depth, but I have heard very respected scientists speak to the fact that a large percentage of synthetic (i.e. chemical) additives in food, cosmetics, etc. metabolize as estrogens. Could that be part of it? I just did a Google search on this and came up with the anti-estrogen diet. Interesting. If this is something worth looking into or not is really beside the point, here; the point is that the synopsis provided is a pretty good summary of what the science has been telling us for years - i.e. that we're flooding our bodies with estrogens, due to the over-consumption of junk that food and other profiteers have been foisting on us, as they walk away with profits.
posted by Vibrissae at 3:58 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, phunniemee, black girls do seem to start puberty earlier.

I'm black myself and I had my first period at age ten. In spite of my mother's efforts to be open and encouraging about all those things, I'd been living in dread, even hoping I died before it happened. Yet when it came I somehow had no idea what it was, and went about my business till late the next day, thinking all the while I must have a horrible disease and trying to put it out of my mind.

Ten years later, I've finally wrestled my period into a state of brutal subjugation, but it was a lot to deal with at the time. It seems a serious shame for a five year old to have to go through that. How unfair to be figuring out pads and tampons, when some of your peers haven't even fully figured out wiping themselves. Hopefully someone can figure out what these changes are all about, and possibly spare some little girls a major unpleasantness.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 3:59 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm 51, and I had my first period at 8 years old when I was in grade 4. I remember that my Brownie leader asked me why the pockets on my uniform shirt stuck out. She thought I had stuff in my pockets when in fact I had nothing in the pockets but breasts under my uniform. My sisters and my mother developed unremarkably. My kids, both boys, also have had perfectly unremarkable development.

My mother may have taken DES when she was pregnant with me. She was given something to help prevent miscarriage but didn't remember what it was. I had breast cancer when I was 41. Is any of this related? Who knows?
posted by angiep at 4:03 PM on July 31, 2010


not milk
posted by hortense at 4:09 PM on July 31, 2010


I'm rather struck by the idea that the hypersexualized modern environment is helping to drive down puberty age. That's a very interesting thought, not at all something you'd immediately consider, but plausible to at least a cursory examination.
posted by Malor at 4:24 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was 7 when I started developing breasts and 9 when my period began. I think developing breasts was more socially traumatic because I was often teased by the boys in my second grade class. I was already prepared for my period by the time it came and my mom had made sure my closet was stocked with pads. I still thought I was leaking kool-aid at first.

My breasts weren't that big at 7 but I had a friend who had rather large breasts at the same age. We're both black if that has anything to do with it, I don't know.

Another effect I just learned about is having adult body odor. Now that was a serious problem for me. I had a "fishy" vagina no matter how much I cleaned it, and I was teased about that. I distinctly remember that I didn't smell like other girls at all. I don't even know if my hormones were out of whack or not. My childhood was strange and unpleasant.

Even though my parents did not shame me about my body and tried to prepare me for puberty, I still felt like my body was an enemy and it took many years for that to change. It is hard to be emotionally prepared at such a young age. When the breasts came I was too young to want them but they weren't small enough to go unnoticed. If reactions could change socially that would probably help some.
posted by Danila at 4:42 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Orchidometer? Our nuts are compared to Nero Fucking Wolfe's hothouse flowers now?
posted by jonmc at 4:52 PM on July 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


delmoi: poisoning? Seriously? I suppose you think that the fact that kids are taller now is the resutl of "poison" and not "getting enough food" -- (or at least, as much food as they require to grow as much as they would in optimal conditions). Of course, you could argue that it's unnatural for people to grow up without want, and it kind of is. But that's not a bad thing and it's not the result of 'poisoning'.

Yes, poisoning: the introduction of chemicals into our environment that makes our bodies malfunction. Much of the OP is concerned with chemical pollutants that might be mimicking hormones; if they're doing that, and they're causing our bodies to do things that are unhealthy, that's poisoning. Not all poisons are acute; some are chronic, taking years of exposure to work their nastiness. High levels of blood glucose are chronically toxic; we call that disease diabetes. There have been hints about the dangers of pseudo-estrogenic pesticides for years; apparently the evidence is firming up, but maybe you have to be weakened by a diet rich in cheap carbs for the damage to become visible. There's a lot we don't know -- except for the fact that so many of us get sick when it seems we shouldn't.

(And yes, we do live longer than our ancestors, thanks to the absence of periods of fasting and want, which is another thing evolution didn't prepare us for. Our ancestors seem to have been capable of living pretty long lives if they weren't killed in war or hunting accidents or by transmissible disease or starvation. Now that we've fixed those things, at least for certain populations, things like early puberty are next on the list.)
posted by localroger at 4:56 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


The earlier onset of puberty does have very interesting long-term implications: the cultural concept of "teenager" is a relatively recent one, and the practicality of this term, and the ages to which it can be applied, has been growing fuzzier over time. It may be the case that the term "adolescent" might return to favor, and its inception lowered to 9 ~ 12.

Also, a note on heights of American colonists implied from bed lengths: that's an old myth, and one resistant to change. Part of the reason for the belief is that there was no mass production of beds in the 17th and 18th centuries of colonial America: every bed was essentially made to order and by hand, its dimensions subject to the size of both the client and the materials available at the time; there were "short" beds made that are well beneath today's standards, but that does not imply that the average adult was significantly shorter than today. Colonial nutrition was, after the initial lean years, relatively robust and high in protein; by the Revolution, Americans were actually taller than their relatives across the Atlantic: an average height of 5’ 7 ½" for males, and 5’ 2 ¼" for women.

It was my impression (without yet having the opportunity to digest the linked article) that early onset of puberty is due to higher BMI in children, due in turn to more food.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 5:24 PM on July 31, 2010


Perhaps "larval work unit".
posted by XMLicious at 5:44 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


34, first period at 11.

My parents didn't figure it out until two things happened-- first, I ran out of clean underpants; second, there were no underpants in the laundry. The subsequent panty raid on my room and lecture about laundry habits was actually longer than the "The pads are UNDER THE SINK, please USE THEM" speech. Fortunately for me, we had an encyclopedia, so I just went and looked up the pertinent details.

If your girl child has OCD, you should probably get her some help before menarche reveals her latent underpants hoarder, just sayin'. The OCD impulse often errs on the side of concealing unexpected and embarrassing behaviors, which is great if, say, you want to grow up in a David Sedaris anthology... but not so great otherwise.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:46 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was nine and a half. (1/2 native american, 1/4 black, 1/4 white) It came christmas morning like the most vile and horrendous present ever, and I have been trying to exchange it for store credit ever since.

I didn't really get any noticeable boobage until about 12, though.
posted by elizardbits at 5:59 PM on July 31, 2010 [9 favorites]


the introduction of chemicals into our environment that makes our bodies malfunction

What tends to get lost in public discussion about safety levels - i.e. about "so and so chemical is acceptable for human consumption or exposure at "xxx" parts-per-million - is that we don't usually hear about how development in children is impacted by exposure to levels many times smaller than what is accepted as "normal". There is good science to back this up.

We are exposed to many, many synthetic chemicals every day. There is no way that the use of chemicals in modern food, textile, building material, fuel, etc. etc. is going to stop. So, what we're in the midst of is essentially both reactions to, and adaptations by, our species to these exposures. We are literally co-evolving with a newly introduced chemical soup, introduced at rates that would astound and infuriate, if all were better informed. We still don't know what the multi-generational impact is going to be because exposure to so many different toxins is relatively recent. Another problem is that new synthetic agents are introduced every year, by the hundreds, and even thousands.

For instance, how many chemicals are you wearing? Think about it. One would go stark-raving mad if one tried to think of and compute combinations and permutations of impact that all this exposure amounts to.

Back to the original intent of this post. All the recent changes that we see in human disease are just the beginning. We are going to adapt in a co-evolutionary way to this stuff. Lots of people are going to die off or not be able to spread healthy genetic inheritance to their offspring. That's sad. That said we must insist on FAR more transparency from manufacturers and government, so that we can make healthy choices!

In a very real way, those who are charged with the responsibility to compel this transparency, who don't do their best; and, those who legislate to keep transparency from happening, are criminal in their action. That may sound harsh, but not so much when one thinks about the downstream consequences of what we're enduring on a daily basis, re: exposures.

In times past, one might have to worry about a meeting a hungry carnivore in the wild, without protection, or a hostile tribe, or running into a wicked snowstorm on the way back home, after a hunt, etc. etc. Things happen. But at least we could mostly *see* what was going on.

Today, in contrast, many of our worst enemies are consumed by us, every day, without our full knowledge, or even the chance to say "no".

My sense it that as communication gets better, world-wide, we will see change - unless, of course, communication continues to remain influenced by those who have something other than the broad public interest at heart. This issue is one of many that will be largely impacted by communication that starts on the edge of the network, and moves to behavioral tipping points form there.
posted by Vibrissae at 6:01 PM on July 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


I can't believe insulin hasn't been mentioned here. Hunter-gatherers/foragers tend to get their periods at 18, but an exception is the Pume, who eat a high carb diet and trade for pasta. A recent study in Denmark showed that girls who undergo early puberty often have insulin resistance. It's unconscionable not to screen girls getting early puberty for this condition...
posted by melissam at 6:06 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's one more example that's related to a recent expose' in the press, about the chemical BPA; bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, are suspected as accelerators of puberty development (non solid evidence in yet, that I know of).

There's no way to avoid all this stiff without wearing an astronaut suit every day (and what's in the astronaut suit? - one can only guess).

I think we need an analog to Michael Pollan's "Food Rules"; it could be a simple guide to avoiding unnecessary overexposure. Someone who we pay our taxes to should be doing this for us, but that's too much to expect these days. Be aware!
posted by Vibrissae at 6:10 PM on July 31, 2010


In case anyone missed it in recent day's news - a study said that bisphenol A, that stuff that was in drink bottles, is found in a large percentage of receipts. In one place I read that it might be the primary source of BPA we're exposed to. It's evidently particularly the ones printed on thermal paper - which, back in the nineteen hundreds when I was a boy, we called "fax paper".
posted by XMLicious at 6:14 PM on July 31, 2010


Damn you Vibrissae.
posted by XMLicious at 6:15 PM on July 31, 2010


It's kind of funny that despite that fact that lavender and tea-tree oil are the only ones that have actually been shown to have significant human effects, we worry not at all about them, though they are very, very common. But they are "natural" and don't sound like evil chemicals-- same is true with soy-- so, no worries.

Also kind of interesting that the story didn't mention the research showing that chronic stress and chaos can lower the age of puberty: there's research finding this and also that for example, a community's murder rate is linked with its teen pregnancy rate. Which makes evolutionary sense: if you are likely to die young, you should reproduce young.

If everyone underwent early puberty, the social effects that they are most worried about-- at least in terms of drug use, stigma, bullying etc.-- may well actually be less likely. Why? Because the girls undergoing it now look older and to avoid bullying and stigma, hang out with older kids, who are developmentally more likely to be using drugs, etc. They get a "slut" reputation because of how they look and get more pressure from boys to have sex.

If the age were lower all around, the stigma wouldn't be there and while sex might start earlier, the other stuff wouldn't be there because these kids wouldn't stand out and therefore seek out older kids to hang around with.
posted by Maias at 6:28 PM on July 31, 2010


If my daughter started getting breasts and a period before 9, then I would definitely consider putting her on hormone treatments.

And seriously, between the chemcials mentioned (many like BPA tied to ubiquitous plastics) and the oil spills, I think the dinosaurs are finally getting their revenge on the mammals.

And there's my son; born with a noticeably hairy back, which he still has. He's really tall, but so's his dad. Will he get a beard when he's 8? Or is it just a quirk of his genetics, not a sign of a problem? No idea.
posted by emjaybee at 6:40 PM on July 31, 2010


This is really worrying that it's becoming a worldwide trend. I had my period (and had to start wearing a bra and start shaving) by (or before) the time I was nine, but I have a serious congenital endocrine/hormonal imbalance (which had inconclusive diagnoses -- but excessive doctors visits and testing -- until I went to my endocrinologist) so I assume that's the reason why I'm all screwed up. If your son or daughter starts going through puberty that early, they should see a doctor (an endocrinologist, for one). Don't mess around with treatments without seeing a doctor first!
posted by Mael Oui at 7:01 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Twice when I was young (5 and then at 8) I started to develop. It was thought to be due to hormones in the meat and poultry at the time. Each time my mom put me (and the rest of the family) on vegetarian diets for a while which stopped it from continuing. I think the kids in my family are susceptible to this because my niece had to stop drinking soy milk (she couldn't drink cow milk) when she was nine due to starting to develop early. My nephew also started to 'develop' early. He started getting underarm odor and hair when he was about 9 or 10.
posted by Catbunny at 7:56 PM on July 31, 2010


Has anyone linked to this story yet?
posted by hellopanda at 10:24 PM on July 31, 2010


I started growing breasts when I was 9 or so, and found my first pube around the same time (for some reason, I told my mother, who for some reason told my mom-mom, who offered to tweeze it for me, ohmygod). I didn't get my period until a few weeks before I turned 12, the same week I got my braces. Man, was that a terrible week. Anyway, none of those ages were out of the ordinary for my family.

I think the kids in my family are susceptible to this because my niece had to stop drinking soy milk (she couldn't drink cow milk) when she was nine due to starting to develop early. My nephew also started to 'develop' early. He started getting underarm odor and hair when he was about 9 or 10.

It seems . . . entirely possible to me that perhaps those in your family just develop earlier?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:24 PM on July 31, 2010


I still felt like my body was an enemy and it took many years for that to change. It is hard to be emotionally prepared at such a young age. When the breasts came I was too young to want them but they weren't small enough to go unnoticed. If reactions could change socially that would probably help some.

This. I had the same thing with my body odor changing and pubic hair starting to grow at age 8. Breasts at age 9. By the time I was 10, I could pass for 17. At 12 I starting saving all of my paper route money in hopes of paying for breast reduction surgery. It was horrible. I felt that some monster had taken over my body and had mutilated it. I mourned for the loss of my smooth chest and curveless body.

The worst part of it is how acutely aware I became of the attitude that some men had about woman's bodies being public property. 10 years old is too damn young to have to deal with shit like that.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:25 PM on July 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


Also, the idea of boys' voices changing at nearly twenty strikes me as completely bizarre. Can you imagine?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:25 PM on July 31, 2010


Orchidometer? Our nuts are compared to Nero Fucking Wolfe's hothouse flowers now?

Quite the reverse; the flowers are being compared to your nuts, as it were. Orchid means testicle - it's a reference to their root structure.
posted by pemberkins at 11:22 PM on July 31, 2010


I was fortunate to be a late bloomer-- first started wearing bras at 15, had first period at almost 17. Reading all of these accounts of early puberty, I realize how very lucky I was. It's just so much easier to deal with an adult body and the inconvenient adult hygiene when you're an actual adult.
posted by ms.codex at 11:29 PM on July 31, 2010


I began to develope early. My mother had her first period at age 15. She was standing in line at the butcher shop and it started then. My grandmother did not have 'the talk' with her and my mother thought she was dying and fainted dead away. She noticed that I was showing sighns of developemrnt,
so she made sure to have 'the talk' with me. I was 8. I really think my first period was a direct result of emotional shock. I got it while watching President Kennedy's funeral. I could de wrong though, because my daughter was 9 when she got her's.

My son had discernable facial hair by age 10. He absolutely had to shave daily by age 13. For the record, all of us were downright skinny when we underwent puberty, so I just can't buy the BMI theory. I am predinantly of Slavic, (Russian, Polish, Bosnian) Celtic, (Irish,Scots) and there is some Native American ancestry (Anishanabe). Also I have some Askenazi Jewish ancestors.
My children are half South Asian.

I don't know how much ethnicity has to do with the onset of puberty.

I was teased before and it got worse after. Not sure how it affected my daughter. It seems to have had no bad social effects on my son.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:34 PM on July 31, 2010


Yes, poisoning: the introduction of chemicals into our environment that makes our bodies malfunction.

The problem here is the assumption that early puberty is somehow a "malfunction". Just because we don't want it doesn't mean it's not how things are "supposed" to be, what's been coded for us genetically. Early puberty isn't "wrong" it's just "different". So is having an average height of 5'11" or whatever for men. But while height is desirable, early puberty is not. But that doesn't make one any more of a "malfunction"

Also, someone brought up milk and bovine growth hormone. Remember that all cows produce BGH and milk from untreated cows also contains it. Which is pretty obvious when you think about it. (Personally, I'm not really a fan of milk, didn't like it ever since I was a toddler)
posted by delmoi at 12:34 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


*quietly replaces Tea Tree Oil soap with non-hermaphrodite soap*
posted by benzenedream at 1:33 AM on August 1, 2010


On the one hand, kids are reaching puberty earlier. On the other hand, undergrads look younger every year.

I don't understand.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:42 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was lucky (or at the time, left out and thought there was something seriously wrong with me) that I was late. In fact I got my first period at the same age that my paternal grandmother was, when she already had a six month old baby boy (my father).

I was politically vegetarian at this time, so I would be served vegetarian food at school, but wouldn't stay off meat at home if I knew where it came from (game meat). I drank at the very most one glass of milk a day, I recall mom nagging me to drink more of it. Not sure if avoiding mass-produced meats, and in particular the crud they serve in school, for my teenage years had anything to do with it. I was two years later than mom, she thinks her period started early because she had her appendix out and she got it after the operation.
posted by dabitch at 2:47 AM on August 1, 2010


"... estrogens are potent hormones and hormone mimics, and even the very low parts per trillion (ng/L) levels measured in rivers (Daughton and Ternes 1999) are high enough to have profound impacts upon the fish." (PDF)

"Estrogen mimics are a group of different molecules that do not have any obvious structural similarities. What most of these molecules do is attach themselves to estrogen receptors in cells ....
... most of the natural estrogen is bound by sex-hormone-binding protein in the blood, which is incapable of binding estrogen mimics. Thus, estrogen mimics are free to bind to receptors, so that, in effect, their concentration in the body is higher than their measured concentrations would suggest."
posted by hank at 3:26 AM on August 1, 2010


The problem here is the assumption that early puberty is somehow a "malfunction".

The problem is that a significant chunk of the population is displaying maturations that differ from that in previous centuries. Noone knows why, and it's only natural to worry about that. Most people know that an ocean of man-made chemicals have been added to the environment in the past century, without significant environmental testing.

Hundreds of examples of those chemicals have proven to be malicious. As in creating disease, cancer, obscene mutations. Examples in previous decades include, benzene, polychlorinated biphenyls, thalidomide and DDT. There are *thousands* more. It is only -logical- to suspect these chemicals when humans, like the bee colonies, show distressing signs.

Early puberty is without question a 'problem' to the extent that, like CFS, it may be a *symptom* the overload we're experiencing from the billions of tons of industrial chemicals added to the environment each year. There's no question that we're exposed to lots of known poisons, as well as to highly experimental GM products, and that (as in the case of BPAs) corporations resist implications around products that are highly lucrative for them.

People *need* to be disinclined to wait for scientific studies, which may or may not ever come, when the fate of their children may be affected. As I see it, poo-pooing or ridiculing or minimizing the threat of these unknowns contributes nothing reasonable to the conversation ... only intimidation. Which is highly suspicious, I might add.
posted by Twang at 3:49 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised no one has mentioned this already: the youngest person ever to give birth was a five year old girl who gave birth in Peru in 1939.

While I won't be surprised to learn that environmental chemicals, etc. and increasing the number of young children who start puberty, for some children its just the way their body functions.
posted by anastasiav at 4:38 AM on August 1, 2010


I was about to, anastasiav, there's a handy wikipedia lists of youngest mothers.
posted by dabitch at 4:58 AM on August 1, 2010


The five year old girl who gave birth had a hormonal disorder. "just the way their body functions"? People's bodies can function wrong.

People with disorders are a distraction from the fact that the average age of puberty has declined dramatically.

It's possible that people with later than average periods should be screened as well. I had my period unusually late and if I had been screened for common causes of that, they probably would have spared me a decade of suffering from gluten intolerance.
posted by melissam at 7:18 AM on August 1, 2010


"just the way their body functions"? People's bodies can function wrong.

Right. That's my point exactly.

I don't deny the creep-back of the age of puberty, but Haley's story, specifically -- about how she was so much taller and bigger than her classmates, the whole thing - is more about a child with a specific disorder than about a trend toward earlier puberty.
posted by anastasiav at 7:37 AM on August 1, 2010


I have to say, I'm really disturbed by the lack of statistical understanding indicated by comments in this article. Several people have posted comments about how so-and-so's mother had puberty at ten and so this isn't really new or interesting at all.

There is a very clear declining average among first beginning age of puberty. Of course there are and have always been outliers, but outliers do not in any way undermine the basic premise that puberty ages have been decreasing. Please don't mistake your grandma starting puberty at 9 in 1938 as any sort of refutation to the facts.
posted by zug at 8:22 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


zug- do you know if there is any difference in the standard deviations? What about the mean versus the average? I agree completely, but just as anecdotes aren't relevant, averages don't tell the whole story either. A drop in the average could simply mean that some of the outliers on the older end of the scale are getting better nutrition and dropping the averages.

I just did a quick math experiment. In a population of 10 people, if 9 of them started at 12 and the last started at 18, the average is 12.6. If that one outlier drops to 16, the average drops to 12.4. Because there is a limit on the lower end and not on the higher end, the average is more easily affected by the higher end. Taken to the extreme, a girl cannot begin menarche before she is conceived. But a woman can conceivably begin menarche at any point later in life. So if the average is 10, there are exactly zero girls getting their periods at birth to balance out the girls getting theirs at 20.

So a dropping average could mean that more girls are starting earlier, or it could mean that there are fewer girls starting later. I'd bet the latter accounts for a lot of the drop in the average.
posted by gjc at 9:09 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


gjc -- I'm in complete agreement with you. These are completely relevant issues. I agree that only reporting the average is not helpful as it might be masking other trends (I went data hunting just to see and can only find averages, fwiw).

But that's not what people are talking about, and that's why I felt the need to comment. It's not like this is a nuanced discussion about how the statistics are misleading, the comments are more like "well I got my period at 9 in 1953 so this is nothing new", which is entirely missing the point.
posted by zug at 9:44 AM on August 1, 2010


Try teaching a class of third and fourth graders, where obvious cases of PMS in the girls stand out.

The number of estrogen imitators in the environment has reached a threshold that is changing us, as a species. This is not unlike the frog species dying out in the rain forests. This is not unlike 40% of the phytoplankton dying in our oceans. This is not unlike recent findings that malathion causes ADHD.

The flip side of the estrogen imitators is fat boys, with breasts. You can complain all you want about problems with girls, but when they figure out that boys are being feminized as well, then something might happen. It is not likely, though, look at the Gulf of Mexico. We are feeling the effects of world corporate government, government by profitability. How will we even begin to regulate the toxification of our planet?
posted by Oyéah at 12:20 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


If there is a fixed number of eggs in women, starting puberty 4-5 years earlier means these kids will be infertile by their early thirties.
posted by benzenedream at 1:08 PM on August 1, 2010


Benzenedream, that's not true. Although some studies find a weak relationship between age of first menstruation and age of menopause, some find none. It's much, much more complicated than that. You start out with millions of eggs (and there are some mice studies suggesting that adults can grow new eggs, contrary to prior belief-- we don't know yet if this is true in women, too)-- and the way they wind down to zero is influenced by many, many things.

Far more important than age of first period are things like stress, diet, number of children born and overall health. The age of menopause seems to be getting later, not earlier and women seem to be more fertile, not less, than they used to be in their 40's. This seems counterintuitive when you think about all the people seeking fertility treatment at that age-- but that's because people didn't used to want to be pregnant then, having already had many children.
posted by Maias at 2:18 PM on August 1, 2010


Maias: thus the *if*. Do you have any references for the age of menopause getting later? I've always wondered if the "eggs run out" line was true, or if there are other limiting factors governing onset of menopause. I should probably just read a decent reproductive endocrinology textbook.
posted by benzenedream at 4:08 PM on August 1, 2010


What did I eat to get these huge testes?
posted by melatonic at 8:23 PM on August 1, 2010


Your huge testes killed the thread, melatonic.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:20 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Age 34. First period: age 15. I was the last girl I knew to start and had spent the two years before I actually started carrying supplies just in case/so no one would know I hadn't started yet. I was embarrassed at what seemed to me to be an abnormally late puberty, in part, because I was the kind of kid who worried a lot about appearing sophisticated, worldly and adult. And in part, because I was basically flat-chested until age 16.

As a point of reference, my grandmother didn't start until she was almost eighteen and my mother until she was almost 16. We're fairly large women. All over 5'8, none of us have ever been described as waif-like. But I am the shortest of the three.
posted by thivaia at 8:11 AM on August 3, 2010




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