Girls are reaching puberty earlier and earlier. Why is it worrying and how can it be avoided?

Specialists say that it is increasingly common to see girls experiencing puberty as early as 6 or 7 years old. “We see girls with the appearance of breasts earlier and earlier,” she says in conversation with Noticias Telemundo Dr. Adriana Carrillo Iregui, pediatric endocrinologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

Below is a summary of our interview with the expert, where we try to identify what factors may be causing it and what risks it entails for girls.

–What is precocious puberty?

–Puberty in girls is the beginning of the appearance of breasts and normally occurs after the age of 8, but it has been seen through studies that Hispanic or Afro-descendant girls can experience it before the age of 8. And this has been happening over the years and has been linked to the increased incidence of obesity. We see that girls who tend to have a higher weight relative to their height, and a higher body mass index, are at greater risk of experiencing early puberty.

There are also other factors that influence the environment, which is exposure to what we call the endocrine system disruptors, which are agents that act like hormones and cause puberty to start.

In addition to this, after COVID-19 we saw that there was a global incidence in the appearance of early puberty and it is thought to be related to a increased exposure to cell phone light, which affects melatonin, the sleep hormone and, at the same time, influences the onset of puberty.

It is very important to make that distinction with the primary doctor to help determine if the 6-year-old girl is not having breasts, she is simply having an increase in her fatty tissue. Which then leads us to another question, and that is why we are seeing that although puberty, the cut-off age for defining precocious puberty has not changed, why we see girls appearing earlier and earlier with the appearance of breasts, and it is very The incidence of obesity is important there.

It is also key to differentiate between what is a normal puberty, between normal variants of puberty and what we call precocious puberty, which is very rare: the incidence is one in 5,000, in 10,000 girls.

–What risks does it entail for girls?

–It is known that girls who have very early puberty may have a higher risk of certain things, such as depression, because they do not feel well, because they obviously look different, because they are treated differently. So They treat them like more adultsbecause they are more exposed to other types of situations in which they should not be.

Additionally, early childhood sexual abuse has been linked to earlier onset of puberty. However, it is difficult to determine a direct cause and effect: stress and trauma could prompt earlier development, or it may be that girls who develop earlier physically may be more vulnerable to abuse.

Why happens? What are the possible causes?

  • Stress.
  • Obesity.
  • Nutrition.
  • Chemicals for daily use in food, cooking and personal hygiene. These include: air fresheners, air fresheners, shampoos and soaps with supposed “natural fragrances,” plastic food containers (tupperware), Teflon pots and pans.
  • Electronics devices.

The good news is that this can be avoided: “When we talk about how to prevent the early onset of puberty we are also talking about how we are going to feed our children, how to prevent excessive weight gainespecially children who have recently arrived in the United States, which we see a lot with the change in nutrition,” emphasizes Dr. Carrillo Iregui.

Experts recommend

  • Avoid fast foods, those processed or packaged in plastic.
  • Look for complete meals, not packaged or processed. Cooking at home.
  • Cook in non-toxic pots and pans, made of steel or ceramic.
  • Store food in glass containers, not plastic.
  • Children should not watch cell phones (be it videos, photos, social networks, etc.) more than 1 hour a day and children under 2 years old should be limited to less than 20 minutes a day.

“The key is to understand that we are talking about a cumulative effect. Although a few minutes here and there seem harmless, all these factors together add up,” says Dr. Carrillo Iregui.

And he adds: “Among the things that we can manage is, one, nutrition to always try to maintain a healthy weight. Diet and exercise are very important. Sometimes it is a little difficult because obviously it is sometimes expensive, Sometimes parents are very busy, many have to work two or three jobs, so it is easier to get fast food, but we must be a little conscious and maybe a little organized. There are places where you can get food that is healthier. You have to organize yourself to make the meals of the week one day, because that gives a lot of structure to the child to learn, when he or she is an adult, how he or she is going to eat.”

Habits for the rest of life

“There are children who go to bed at 3:00 am because they are looking at their phone and because they can’t sleep, but they can’t sleep because it turns out that the blue light emitted by electronic devices also (blue light, in English) It gives the information to the brain that it is daytime, then there is no melatonin and it is difficult to fall asleep. This should be avoided,” highlights the endocrinologist.

“Sleep hygiene is very important. It is very important to know that the child has an hour, because many times parents say, ‘no, he is on vacation, he goes to bed at whatever time’ and obviously I understand it because I am also a mother. It is sometimes difficult to manage their schedule, but it is important that they understand and not give up. They are eventually going to be adults and everything that is happening in their childhood is going to have an impact on puberty and the rest of their lives.”

–What are the signs that this may be happening? what to do in that case?

–If parents notice the appearance of breasts and an acceleration in growth before the age of 8, they should take their daughter to the pediatrician to do a hormone and bone age analysis and determine if everything is normal. The pediatrician is the best to tell you if this is something that warrants an appointment with specialists.

That would be recommendation number one. Don’t let it go, because sometimes we see girls who start at 6 years old or earlier. The early appearance of breasts must be very well evaluated.

–How to deal with emotional challenges?

–These hormonal changes also entail emotional changes that in themselves are strong for girls and adolescents. That is why it is very important to always be in communication with the girl. and that she knows that she can express what she feels and what she is experiencing in her body, so that those who care for her can help her process and treat it, if necessary.

It is very important to always be in communication with the girl.”

Adriana Carrillo Iregui ENDOCRINOLOGIST

–How to support the girl in social challenges?

–Entering puberty early is going to affect their emotional life and their social life, this is going to change the way they perceive themselves and how they are perceived by their friends.

It is very important to know that puberty is not a stigma. Sometimes parents say ‘Oh, he’s already entered puberty, the terrible age’, and it’s not always like that, it shouldn’t be like that. One must also try to understand them, because obviously they are living in a generation that is quite different, that they are exposed to all the technology, social networks and all that. So it is very important to talk about this, if the girls feel bad you have to ask what is happening to you, not try to rule it out, say ‘Ah, it’s not important, don’t worry, that will pass’, because many Sometimes they feel so different that this leads to depression, eating disorders, and other types of conditions and situations that we should try to avoid.