Girls in the U.S. are hitting puberty earlier than ever before. Even some 7-year-olds and 8-year-olds are developing breasts, according to a study in the journal of Pediatrics.
It’s thought that spiraling rates of childhood obesity may play a large role in some girls’ earlier development because body fat is linked to the production of sex hormones. Early breast development signifies exposure to sex hormones. Although researchers say this isn’t necessarily occurring among all U.S. girls, they will continue to monitor the volunteers in the study.
The pattern of reaching puberty early is worrisome on several levels, experts say. Early puberty may put girls at a higher risk for breast cancer, and girls who reach puberty early are more likely than their peers to take risks, according to the study’s authors. Also, developing faster than one’s peers can have adverse psychological effects.
“For the 11-year-old that looks like she’s 15 or 16, adults are going to interact with her like she’s 15 or 16, but so are her peers,” Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Dr. Frank Biro, the first author of the study, told Fox News. Girls who develop young “look physically older,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t mean that they’re psychologically or socially more mature.”
When girls develop young and start menstruating at an earlier age, they could face a higher risk of breast cancer – depending on when go through menopause because those who menstruate the longest are at a higher risk of this cancer.
The study, led by Biro, looked at 1,200 girls ages 7 and 8. Nurses, doctors and researchers determined which girls already had started puberty by measuring breast development.
When findings were compared to the 1997 figures, girls in the current study were found more developed at a younger age. About 10% of the 7-year-old white girls and 23% of 7-year-old black girls showed signs of breast development, a jump from the 5% of white 7-year-olds and 15% of black 7-year-olds in 1997.
Among the 8-year-olds, some 18% of white girls and 43% of black girls already had started puberty, which was an increase of 11% for white girls from 1997 and the same increase for black girls, according to Fox News.
The team of researchers noted that girls with a higher body mass index at the age of 7 or 8 were more likely to be developing breasts than thin girls their age.
Some studies show that girls who reach puberty early are more likely to be depressed and to start having sex earlier than girls who hit puberty later.
Biro’s suggestion for families trying to minimize the chances that their young daughter will have early puberty suggested eating more produce and eating more family meals together.
The FDA published proposed detailed guidelines that producers of genetically engineered animals would have to follow to determine whether there are any risks to humans, the environment and the animals themselves.
The guidelines bring the decades-old technology of genetic engineering for animals one step closer to the market.
Genetically modified cattle, pigs, fish and goats are being produced for a variety of uses. Some produce pharmaceuticals in their milk or blood. Others are resistant to diseases such as mad cow or produce healthier meat or milk.
"Many kinds of genetically engineered animals are in development, although none has yet been approved by the agency for marketing," FDA Deputy Commissioner Randall Lutter said.
It was important to formalize procedures the FDA uses to regulate genetically engineered animals, Lutter said, "because the technology has evolved to a point where commercialization of these animals is no longer over the horizon."
The agency is inviting public comment on its proposals until November 18 and could modify them before they become final.
Consumer groups called the FDA's action a good first step, but said the guidelines fail to answer several important questions.
One concern is the approval process, which would be secretive to protect companies' proprietary interests.
"It's unclear whether FDA has the authority and expertise to address the full range of risks," said Gregory Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Foods produced from some bioengineered animals will not have to be labeled, the FDA said, also drawing some ire.
"It is incomprehensible to us that FDA does not view these animals as different from their conventional counterparts," said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union.
"Consumers have a right to know if the ham, bacon or pork chops they are buying come from pigs that have been engineered with mouse genes."
But the FDA said labeling would be required if there is a significant change in the food. For example, pork from pigs engineered to produce meat with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids would need a label.
Producers will be required to describe what DNA they have inserted into the animal, and how it behaves in the animal, the impact on the animal's health, and show the product is not different from traditional food.
Companies also would have to tell the FDA how they would track the animals and dispose of them when they die. If there is a high risk, the FDA might require the animals to be sterilized.
The FDA said it has the authority to regulate genetically engineered animals through the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The measure identifies a drug as anything that changes the "structure or function" of the person or animal.