May 20, 2022

"[T]he age of puberty in girls has dropped by about three months per decade since the 1970s...."

"Girls who go through puberty early are at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other psychological problems, compared with peers who hit puberty later. Girls who get their periods earlier may also be at a higher risk of developing breast or uterine cancer in adulthood. No one knows what risk factor — or more likely, what combination of factors — is driving the age decline or why there are stark race- and sex-based differences.... 'Obesity can’t explain all of this,' [said pediatric endocrinologist Natalie Shaw]. 'It’s just happened too quickly.'... Sexual abuse in early childhood has been linked to earlier puberty onset. Causal arrows are difficult to draw, however. Stress and trauma could prompt earlier development, or, as Dr. [Marcia] Herman-Giddens hypothesized decades ago, girls who physically develop earlier could be more vulnerable to abuse. Girls whose mothers have a history of mood disorders also seem more likely to reach puberty early, as are girls who do not live with their biological fathers. Lifestyle factors like a lack of physical activity have also been linked to changes in pubertal timing. And during the pandemic, pediatric endocrinologists from across the world noticed that referrals were increasing for earlier puberty in girls.... [S]ome experts argue that the age threshold for alarm should be lowered.... But lowering the age cutoff remains controversial... 'It might be normal in the sense of what the data are showing,' Dr. Herman-Giddens said, 'but I don’t think it’s normal, for lack of a better word, for what nature intended.'"

From "Puberty Starts Earlier Than It Used To. No One Knows Why. Some girls are starting to develop breasts as early as age 6 or 7. Researchers are studying the role of obesity, chemicals and stress" (NYT).

Take note: The phrase "what nature intended" is still in circulation.

54 comments:

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

fast food meats.

Crimso said...

"I don’t think it’s normal, for lack of a better word, for what nature intended."

Concerns about what's normal "for what nature intended" went out the window quite a long time ago.

Rollo said...

Surprised it's not more.

tim maguire said...

I'm surprised that article didn't mention hormones in the water. When my niece, who is the same age as my daughter, hit puberty at 9, we invested in a high-end water filter that removes estrogen and all the other new fangled chemically things that find their way into the water supply and aren't removed by standard municipal treatment. Our daughter was one of the last of her friends to get her period at what until recently was a pretty normal age of 12.

Yes, I know the difference between anecdote and data. I'm just pointing out that failure to include hormones in the water supply in this article is a surprising oversight.

gilbar said...

'but I don’t think it’s normal, for lack of a better word, for what nature intended.'

CLEARLY! this is a call, for Puberty Blockers! Chemical Castration is 'what nature intended'
Worried about your daughter? Turn her into a him!!!

Gahrie said...

I strongly believe that a lack of father in the home is going to be a huge part of it.

tim in vermont said...

If I were king, nobody under 18 would be allowed a smartphone or unsupervised use of a personal computer.

rhhardin said...

Obviously soyburgers.

Balfegor said...

There's probably a multitude of causes, but one avenue for exploration is the possibility of widespread use of birth control pills leading to EE2 synthetic estrogen contamination in tapwater and possibly feed animals. Effects have been observed in wild animals if I recall correctly, and while wastewater treatments are supposed to filter it out, it's unclear to me whether EE2 is specifically filtered for, and there are certainly locations across the US where wastewater treatment has been less than effective. E.g. there were significant problems with multiple sweage treatment plants in Baltimore, reported back in March of this year, and the Flint, Michigan water priblems were widely reported years ago. The effects of poor water sourcing / filtration probably wouldn't be uniform across race and socio-economic status either.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Too many times to count I have been told that hormones given to cows are responsible. I have no idea if it is true but it’s the only “explanation” I’ve ever heard from people who have children who are developing early.

rhhardin said...

I've avoided developing breasts by drinking well water.

Jamie said...

Sexual abuse in early childhood has been linked to earlier puberty onset. Causal arrows are difficult to draw, however.

I could definitely see the causation arrow going the other way - subtle signs of puberty onset leading to sexual abuse. See, e.g. Lolita and nymphets. But the use of the term "early childhood" - that has a specific meaning, age 8 or younger in the world of education. I know the piece says girls as young as 6 or 7 are developing breasts (that in particular sounds like what we used to call "baby fat" to me), but those who sexually abuse very young children aren't typically looking for a little girl who has the markers of a woman, are they? What would be the point of the MAP thing, if so?

But if it's the other way around - if treating very young girls as sexual objects actually has a role in bringing about earlier puberty - then one wonders what effect the general sexualization of young girls is having.

When our daughter was born - and I mean immediately after she emerged from the womb - my husband announced, "She will never wear words across her butt." (I'm sure many here will remember that trend. It was particularly horrifying to him that school sports team warmup clothes often had the team name on the butt back then. Thankfully this particular stupidity seems to have faded...)

Surely there's a natural experiment happening in this area - what's going on with the age of puberty in very conservative Muslim societies, for instance? I mean, you'd still have to control for obesity, and it would be difficult to get to the data on child sexual abuse, I'll bet.

Jersey Fled said...

They're also getting taller. I vote for better nutrition.

Joe Smith said...

I keep reading that it's because of so many hormones in food. Stuff to make cattle fatter, etc.

I've also read that it's what is making men into such pussies these days...

Night Owl said...

Why are they claiming ignorance? Are they afraid to say it's because children are more obese than ever? The onset of puberty for females is weight/body fat related.

Ann Althouse said...

@night owl

It’s in the article prominently and excerpted in my post

farmgirl said...

https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/product-safety-information/steroid-hormone-implants-used-growth-food-producing-animals

I learned that young heifers are spayed b/c their estrus cycle interferes w/the implanted hormonal rings.
Also: dairy cattle in conventional situations are given so much hormonal help. For cystic ovaries, silent heats and synchronized breeding. Farmers can buy it- used to be able to- oxytocin, cystorelin, lytelyse etc.

It’s been almost 20yrs that we’ve been shipping organic milk- we never think of these drugs.

https://www.bi-vetmedica.com/species/cattle/products/cystorelin.html

It’s proclaimed safe.

I also believe that birth control women use isn’t w/out blame.
BWDIK

SoLastMillennium said...

tim in vermont said...
If I were king, nobody under 18 would be allowed a smartphone or unsupervised use of a personal computer.

Which Tim posts from his smartphone or computer... (must be over 18)

farmgirl said...

I have a question/can’t get into NYTs.
Why use the word chemicals and not the word hormones?

Temujin said...

I don't have access to the article, so I don't know if this is just girls in the US, or if this study covered multiple countries. I'll assume it's the US. This is something I've read about on the fringes, an occasional article here or there, over the last decade. Interestingly, it coincides with the reduction of testosterone in boys/young men in the most recent generations.

If this is an American phenomenon, I would say it's definitely in the chemicals (hormones or toxic chemicals) we put into our food and water chain. If this is global...well, the same thing applies. "How would you like your milk today? With or without hormones?"

Either that or the Chinese have been working overtime on a long term attack mode in which our women mature earlier and our men simply cannot fight back.

Kevin said...

How can this be alarming when some "women" never go through puberty at all?

And the reason, we're being told, is always some form of "what nature intended".

Odi said...

Are girls in less developed countries on the same trajectory? If not, it's most likely all the hormones and chemicals in our water and food. Repeated tests of water sources have shown a high level of estrogen in the public water systems.

Enigma said...

If you want to pour gasoline on the fire, consider that the average onset of puberty varies by race:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23934693/

This has been documented for many decades, with Black/African-Americans starting puberty earliest. Per the research cited above, African-American girls over the last 25 years are hitting it sooner than Caucasian girls (less change).

Next, reanalyze all evidence per (1) higher percentages of non-White populations in the US, (2) changes in diet, activity, and hormones present in meats and processed foods. Spend a lot of time on thorough diet-by-race analyses. Finally, consider that human achievement follows a loooooong growth and development cycle that facilitates educational opportunities before reproduction (i.e., racial differences in the prime learning window).

Then, consider this entire analysis is many decades old. Figure out how to the bleakness of biological and evolutionary facts. Find a political approach that's sustainable.

cassandra lite said...

In the '90s, I wrote about a maverick cancer researcher who attributed the rise in breast cancer rates to what he called "unrequited menstruations," which bathe the breasts each month in hormones. Women were having fewer children than earlier in the century, which meant more periods per women; plus they were having their 2 kids later in life.

One thing he noted was that the average age of menarche at the turn of the 20th century was nearly 18, whereas in 1993 it was closer to 12. He attributed the change to improved nutrition, and increased intake of fat.

Bruce Hayden said...

“Too many times to count I have been told that hormones given to cows are responsible. I have no idea if it is true but it’s the only “explanation” I’ve ever heard from people who have children who are developing early”

A lot of anecdotal evidence there. Some dairy farmers use hormones to increase milk production in their cows. Hormone free milk is thus a luxury. At my kid’s private school 15 or so years ago, the girls were starting their periods right about the time that their mothers had. Not so the public school kids. We knew girls 9 and 10 starting their periods.

We really do have a problem. Menarche has been moving down in age, while educational levels are moving in the opposite direction. Moreover, having babies before maybe 18 or so seems to permanently stunt a girl’s ultimate intellectual and emotional development (brain development doesn’t normally complete in females until early to mid 20s - unless they have been pregnant). From menarche at maybe 9 to HS graduation at 18, is a long long time to expect girls to keep from having sex, getting pregnant, and otherwise doing what comes naturally.

Earlier this year, we had 5 teenaged grandsons. Then the oldest turned 20. The oldest two have had steady girlfriends since about 16, which means, that they were sexually active throughout much of HS. Grandma routinely gives the two of them “the talk”: “girls get tired of sex without getting pregnant, don’t trust them about birth control - lying about this is as old as Adam and Eve, keep control of your condoms, never let her anywhere near them before you are ready to use them, etc”. It’s harsh, since both girls are close enough that they attend all family events. And so far, it’s working.

walter said...

As with many health (physical and mental) issues, it's odd how often discussion excludes looking at other countries as a comparison. Seems like that should be step one.

"Sexual abuse in early childhood has been linked to earlier puberty onset. Causal arrows are difficult to draw, however. Stress and trauma could prompt earlier development, or, as Dr. [Marcia] Herman-Giddens hypothesized decades ago, girls who physically develop earlier could be more vulnerable to abuse. "
Yeah...one of those theories makes a helluva lot more sense.

Smilin' Jack said...

No big mystery here. “What nature intended" (i.e. natural selection) is that organisms pass on their genes to as many surviving descendants as possible. Genetic traits that promote this will become more common in each succeeding generation. Earlier reproductive maturity is obviously one such trait. The earlier you get started, the more you can crank out. And with modern healthcare/welfare, pretty much any baby born will live to reproductive age, so survival is no longer an issue. Expect human reproduction to become more rabbit-like.

Kevin said...

Too many times to count I have been told that hormones given to cows are responsible.

Why not pesticides sprayed on oats and almonds and turned into "milk"?

I mean, if we're just throwing around our preferred social outcomes as scientific theories, we should all play.

Yancey Ward said...

I wouldn't be surprised to find there is a "size" factor involved in the onset of puberty. It could be something as simple as a feedback signal from extent of the circulatory system, for example. Biological event onsets are pretty damned mysterious even today.

And it doesn't have to be obesity in and of itself- it could simply be something to do with consistently higher growth rates due to better availability of food after WWII. People are taller today, for example, than they were 100 years ago.

n.n said...

“Too many times to count I have been told that hormones given to cows are responsible. I have no idea if it is true but it’s the only “explanation” I’ve ever heard from people who have children who are developing early”

Perhaps, or female mimicking hormones, notably present in vegetables sources, that were once alien to our diet.

Take note: The phrase "what nature intended" is still in circulation.

The normal state, or, at least distribution, has a long and widely established precedent. Our social progress has replaced Her Choice with her Choice and forward-looking collateral damage.

Amadeus 48 said...

Must be global warming...and CO2 ingestion. Yeah, that's the ticket!

Jersey Fled said...

Amazing how we can come up with sinister reason for practically anything

Carol said...

I started at 11 and my parent at 9. I def think inactivity and poor diet have a lot to do with it. You start putting on fat cells, which make estrogen, which accelerates puberty.

My parent started her periods in 1927, while stuck in a boarding house in Shanghai. Her mother complained about the cheap starchy food in her letters begging for money to get out of there.

No drugs or hormones in the water supply back then!

iowan2 said...

Anecdotes don't carry any weight, but our daughter, and HER daughter hit puberty at the same age. And I recall with great clarity, and specificity, coming into my new year 6th grade classroom, to see 3 girls that had matured quite impressively. They were just as proud, as I was entranced.

Jersey Fled said...

Oh, and has anyone actually done a reliable peer reviewed controlled study linking milk consumption and puberty or is this like masks and school closings

Carol said...

Anyway, that was anecdotal but I do believe better food and an active life would postpone menarche by several years. Serious athletes may never start if they don't slow down.

So I think this trend is nurture. Some of us were ahead of the curve, is all.

Birches said...

I love in a UMC area. Girls are not developing any earlier than when I was a kid. It's a intact family, obesity issue from that inference.

Affluent kids are still mostly thin, even in obese areas. Their fathers are also in the home.

Scotty, beam me up... said...

I had read somewhere years ago that part of the problem of earlier puberty in girls along with declining sperm counts in men might be related to chemicals in plastics which are similar in chemical makeup to female hormones and thus mimics female hormones not only in humans, but in animals as well. If true, think of all of the containers we use that store foods and ingestible liquids (water, milk, juice, soda, etc). And these chemicals, like birth control medications used by biological women (not trans-women, but I sarcastically digress) pass into our waste water system via human body waste and then into our drinking water. At Casa de Scott, we have switched to buying our milk that is hormone free that comes in half gallon glass bottles from a local dairy that is sold at groceries in our modest burg. We also have a high end water filter, which has the side benefit of better tasting water. Mrs. Scott is a breast cancer survivor and doesn’t need any additional female hormones, real or mimics, in her food.

Quaestor said...

They would never submit to such data-gathering, but a comparison of girls brought up in Amish homes to girls brought up in whatever passes for the typical American household, i.e. increasingly single-parent, non-church-going, non-Protestant, with extensive exposure to popular culture, would be enlightening.

If early-onset puberty is correlated with sexual abuse then it may also be linked to exposure to the sexually charged popular culture. The results of such an observation would be difficult to normalize, the Amish being so different in so many ways. It would require scientists of the most scrupulous caliber. Unfortunately, the universities aren't graduating many of those these days.

taco said...

If cow milk is responsible for early puberty, why do the people who drink the least milk (blacks) have the highest rates of early puberty?

Eleanor said...

As someone who taught 13 year olds for years, I'm not going to speculate about what's causing this, but I've seen first hand what some of the effects are. When 13 year old boys have to compete with older boys for the girls who are sexually mature, the older boys win. There aren't many high school girls who have sex with middle school boys. When a middle school girl has signs she is becoming sexually mature, the high school boys will take advantage of a middle school girl's naivete. Because the high school boys don't have daily access with the kids in different schools, they have to work harder, which a lot of 13 year old girls find flattering. Once the high school boys complete their conquest, they often move on. Most 17 year old boys aren't really all that interested in hanging out with middle school girls. But they leave behind a girl who has made the leap into being sexually active, and the 13 year old boys swoop in. Twenty years ago there wasn't all that much need for "comprehensive" sex education in middle school. Today there is, and a large part of it needs to be "you decide when you're ready". Middle school kids have a long time ahead of them to be sexually active, and while beginning to menstruate use to be the cue a woman was marriageable, it doesn't have to be a signal today.

JaimeRoberto said...

my husband announced, "She will never wear words across her butt."

What? He didn't want her to have "Juicy" written on her butt? Holy Patriarchy, Batman!


Anyway, another possibility is that people are more sedentary these days. My daughter didn't start getting her period until high school. 15-20 hours a week of gymnastics will do that.

Joanne Jacobs said...

Girls are hitting puberty earlier in Europe and Asia too.

Greg The Class Traitor said...

Quaestor said...
If early-onset puberty is correlated with sexual abuse then it may also be linked to exposure to the sexually charged popular culture. The results of such an observation would be difficult to normalize, the Amish being so different in so many ways. It would require scientists of the most scrupulous caliber. Unfortunately, the universities aren't graduating many of those these days.

Waldorf schools require kids to avoid "screens" when they're younger, which means they miss out on a lot of the sexualizing culture.

So you could do a comparison between them and normal private school kids

Jupiter said...

Well, I don't know the cause, but here in Oregon we know the solution. Our Legislature has passed a law requiring that "feminine products" be available in boys' bathrooms in elementary schools.

Readering said...

Nature could care less.

Gojuplyr831@gmail.com said...

Okay. 3 months for every year since 1970. That was 50 years ago. So 150 months or 12.5 years earlier. That would put puberty starting while still in the cradle, or at the latest, when learning to walk.

Mark said...

In today's world, even men are getting their period. Or at least more are getting man-boobs.

Yes, hormones in the drinking water is a real thing.

Saint Croix said...

Might have to do with estrogen added to cows to produce more milk. And the estrogen gets into the milk.

~ Gordon Pasha said...

Current thinking amongst endocrinologists is that it is a combination of better diet and more ambient lighting exposure. Pineal melatonin secretion mediates the effect on the hypothalamus.

M said...

What else became widespread in the 70s? No Fault Divorce. Girls who don’t spend time with their bio fathers go into puberty earlier. It is a hormonal thing. Hanging with dad every other weekend isn’t enough. I would recommend divorced dads pick up their daughters from school every day or take her to schools every day. Spend an hour with your daughter everyday you can, not just in the same house. Sitting together on the sofa, at the dining room table or in a car is good. Then give her a sweatshirt you’ve worn to wear around the house and a t shirt you’ve worn to wear as a nightgown. Not something stinky but just worn sitting around for an hour so that it has your pheromones on it. When a female’s body knows there is a father to provide for her it doesn’t go into puberty as quickly to attract a mate.

Bunkypotatohead said...

With women waiting much later in life to have children, it makes sense that mother nature would try to counteract that by making them fertile earlier.

Or maybe it's a side effect of the birth control pills their mothers took all those years.

Balfegor said...

Re: Gordon Pasha:

Current thinking amongst endocrinologists is that it is a combination of better diet and more ambient lighting exposure.

This one sounds kind of counterintuitive to me, or is it specifically ambient (rather than direct) lighting? My impression is that children of the 90s were more cloistered than children of the 80s, who in turn were more cloistered than children of the 70s.

Tom Grey said...

"No one knows what risk factor — or more likely, what combination of factors — is driving the age decline or why there are stark race- and sex-based differences.... 'Obesity can’t explain all of this,' [said pediatric endocrinologist Natalie Shaw]. 'It’s just happened too quickly.'..."

I know, but can't prove, that a big factor is the estrogen in The Pill. That's also why sprem counts in fish, and men, are going down - inconsistently.

The EPA has totally failed to do a thorough investigation of the environmental impact of the estrogen, testosterone, growth & other hormones. And they won't, because if they found out it was a big influence, like much much bigger than the use of dairy milk rather than plant milk in coffee, their finding out such truth would be negative to their pro-abortion / women's control of their reproduction agenda.

I'm not so happy about it being true, either.

More girls having their dads around would help here, too.