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Earlier Puberty in Girls Could Be due to Family Breakdown Stress: Study

Update Date: Jun 15, 2012 04:22 PM EDT

Studies and surveys have shown that the age at which girls attain puberty is coming down every year and scientists say that the reason could be stress of family breakdown.

Apparently the age at which breast development, the first sign of puberty, starts in girls has fallen down in the last 15 years. From the age of 15 in the nineteenth century, it has fallen down to just 10 years in the current scenario.

The possible explanation is thought to be hormone imbalance which could be because of increasing levels of obesity in children. But then experts are concerned that one key factor could be the stress of breaking down of modern relationships.

According to Professor Richard Sharpe, of Edinburgh University, broken families and the absence of fathers while growing up could be the reason behind the hormone imbalance.

He says that girls could be under a lot of stress when too much is expected out of them. For example, pressure to perform at school and to fit into the crowd could be stressful factors.

According to doctors, this could further cause premature sexualization, teenage pregnancy and higher risks of breast cancer later in life.

“We are seeing early puberty in situations which we would deem stressful for girls, for example being adopted or growing up without their biological father in the house. There may be a stepfather or the child is having to live in two homes. That is all somewhat stressful and it is much more common nowadays than it was. It may even be that it is all the expectations of the modern world on girls, because there’s been a radical change in what their expectations are.” Professor Sharpe, group leader at the Centre for Reproductive Health, told the Cheltenham Science Festival.

Another study conducted two years ago by US researchers has also shown that girls who did not grow up with their fathers at home were 2.4 times likelier to have earlier breast development at a younger age when compared to others.

The explanation could be excessive production of male hormone androgen, which girls do produce during puberty, but could be produced in excessive quantities if they are dealing with high levels of stress.

Researchers are still trying to find an explanation as to why there is an increased rate of early breast development in young girls but not menstruation.

Professor Sharpe said that researchers are looking at ‘societal factors’ to find a possible explanation. He also said that it is difficult to establish exactly how different hormones were interacting to trigger early breast development, reported Mail Online.

“We need to help parents deal with the physical and psychological consequences of early puberty which are very serious and can very distressing for the child. There is a strong link with early onset of sexual activity when they are not emotionally ready, and with teenage pregnancy for which already have the highest level in Europe,” Dr Tabitha Randell, of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, also speaking at the festival, said.

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