Eight –Going on Eighteen: Our Daughters and Early Puberty
By Elizabeth Arndorfer
I have a beautiful, high-spirited, thoughtful eight year old daughter. She loves Harry Potter,
rainbow sherbet and desperately wants a dog. And at eight years old, she has breasts.
When I first noticed that she had breasts, I found out everything I could about puberty –
wasn’t this a little young? I talked to our pediatrician. I talked to other parents, neighbors and
work colleagues. I combed the internet. What I found out didn’t make me happy.
In a fascinating – albeit alarming – report commissioned by the Breast Cancer Fund (
http://www.breastcancerfund.org/site/pp.asp?c=kwKXLdPaE&b=3266509), I learned
that girls get their first periods today, on average, a few months earlier than did girls 40 years
ago. More shocking, they get their breasts one to two years earlier. In thirty years, onset of
puberty has fallen to just under 10 years for U.S. white girls and just under nine years for
black girls. Wow!
My husband, bless his heart, tried to reassure me. So what if she starts to develop a little
early, that’s not so bad, is it?
At first, I thought he had a point. But then I learned more. The reason the Breast Cancer
Fund (www.breastcancerfund.org) commissioned the report is because early puberty is a
known risk factor for breast cancer. But that’s not all. Early puberty has also been shown to
raise the risk of a variety of other conditions including: polycystic ovary syndrome; high risk
adolescent behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drugs, crime and unprotected sex; eating
disorders; depression and anxiety; and lower academic education.
So of course, as a protective mother, my next question was what’s causing it and is there
anything I can do to help my daughter. The causes of early puberty are varied – obesity,
premature birth and low birth weight, television viewing, psychosocial stressors such as
family dysfunction, and formula feeding. But one potential contributing factor caught my
eye – expos