Latina girls are menstruating earlier than ever in the United States

Girls from racial minorities and families with limited economic resources, including black and Latino girls, are starting to menstruate earlier than the average age in the United States, and it is taking longer for the cycle to regularize, according to a new report .

Younger generations are experiencing their first period, called menarche, at age 12 on average, according to a study published Wednesday by researchers from the Apple Women's Health Study at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. This is especially the case for racial minorities and girls who live in lower social strata, the report concludes.

The study covered more than 71,000 people born between 1950 and 2005 (4,918 identified as Hispanic, or 6.9% of the total) and found that, over time, all groups experienced their first periods at younger ages.

This trend, however, was stronger among black, Asian and Hispanic people, as well as other non-white groups, and those with lower socioeconomic status.

Racial disparities in puberty in general have been well documented. Although girls of different races are starting puberty earlier, research has shown that Hispanic and black girls are more likely to have this happen than white girls.

“Early puberty is associated with adverse health outcomes over the life course, and Hispanic and Black girls experience puberty earlier than girls of other racial or ethnic backgrounds,” according to another study published in 2022 that notes that “ “Racial, economic, and housing privileges may contribute to these disparities” by exposing girls to mechanisms such as “stress, obesity, or endocrine disruptors” underlying early puberty.

Currently, puberty begins between ages 8 and 13, but some black girls, for example, are experiencing it as early as age 5. In Hispanic women this occurs shortly after age 6. This is known as precocious puberty, it is rare and affects 1% or less of the country's population, according to the National Institutes of Health.

This new research is among the first to analyze the first period in the context of race and economic status, and also to delve into the regularity of the menstrual cycle.

“This is important because early menarche and irregular menses may point to physical and psychological problems later in life, and these trends may contribute to increased adverse health outcomes and disparities,” said Zifan Wang, lead author of the study and a fellow postdoctoral research.

“We noticed that part of this trend toward early menarche could be explained by a high body mass index during childhood,” Wang continued. “This implies that childhood obesity, which has increased in the United States, could be contributing to people experience their periods earlier,” he added.

Early menstruation has been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer, and entering puberty earlier has been linked to depression and anxiety. It can also increase the chance of developing eating disorders or even stunt children's growth.

According to Wang, this is because early menarche can cause various adverse health outcomes, which is why it is important for young people to receive psychological support, be educated about menstrual health, and have individualized health care plans.