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Increasing rates of early puberty may signal health issues later

A physician measures a youth during the Shapedown program for overweight adolescents and children.
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A physician measures a youth during the Shapedown program for overweight adolescents and children.

Children are showing signs of puberty as early at 7 years of age, and some health experts are concerned that could bear ill health for them later in life.

For most of the 20th century, the age for puberty held steady at around 12 years for girls, with data for boys being similar. Some girls are showing signs of breast development — considered one of the earliest signs of puberty — as early as age 7, and some clinicians have begun screening girls as young as six for signs, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Earlier puberty in girls seems to correlate with higher levels of obesity, depression and risk taking behavior later in life, as shown in a study cited in the article. It seems early development in women is even associated with higher rates of breast cancer.

The causes for this are unclear. Some say phthalates, chemicals found in plastics and skin products, such as sunscreen and sanitizers, might be causing jumps in estrogen levels, the article noted. Childhood obesity — which releases estrogen — might also be contributing. Children born to an overweight mother may even stand a higher chance of reaching puberty earlier.

But some doctors say there is no such trend, and that believers are reading too much into clinical signs such as breast growth.

Read the full story in the Wall Street Journal.