Menstuff® has compiled the following information on puberty. Dr. Jennifer Ashton commented in April of 2011 that 15% of girls now begin puberty by age 7. Possible reasons: Obesity - body fat generates the hormone estrogen, possible exposure to BPA which has hormone activity, and family history (especially if mom went through early puberty).

Puberty Coming Earlier Than We Thought
What Is Delayed Puberty?
What Causes Delayed Puberty?
What Do Doctors Do?
Dealing With Delayed Puberty
Related Story: Early Puberty: Why Girls are Growing Up Faster

Puberty Coming Earlier Than We Thought

They say, kids grow up faster today than ever before. But for many girls that is more than just a saying. Girls are starting puberty at younger and younger ages - which means that we need to start teaching sex education at younger and younger ages as well.

Dean Edell, M.D. "The old sex education movies look quaint and outdated, especially compared to what surrounds us today on movies and television.

"Today's sexual imagery makes sex education even more important, since kids need to have accurate information to deal with the urges of their growing bodies.

"Most sex ed. classes that discuss condoms or birth control methods for the first time don't usually begin until kids are entering junior high at twelve or thirteen. Well, the American Academy of Pediatrics just issued a report that found that may be years too late for many young girls.

"Lizzie Prindle is learning all about her changing body with her mom Angela. She's only a fifth grader, but last year, at the age of 9 she started showing the first signs.

Lizzie Prindle/Started puberty at age 9: "I noticed my breasts were getting bigger and changing..."

Edell: "Something she didn't expect quite so soon."

Angela Mason/Lizzie's mother: "I was surprised, I thought really that, 12 was the magic number, but it's nine or 10, it's not 12 anymore."

Edell: "In fact, 12 is still the magic number with respect to when most girls start their periods, but what seems to have changed is when girls show the first signs of puberty. A recent study found 15 percent of Caucasian girls and 48 percent of African American girls by age 7 or 8 had begun puberty, meaning breast development and pubic hair."

Walter Miller, M.D./UCSF Dept of Pediatrics: "There are many normal girls who will start at even younger ages, all the way down to 6 for Afro-Americans and 7 for Caucasians."

Edell: "Alarmists blame early puberty on everything from hormones in our milk, to chemicals in plastic bottles, yet scientists say there is no link, since the levels of any hormone in milk is so miniscule they would have no effect on a human beings.

"Most scientists feel the real reason girls, like Lizzie, are maturing earlier is far less ominous - better overall health and nutrition. Nevertheless, early puberty is a very real wake-up call for sex-education providers."

End Note

For almost all girls, early puberty is not accompanied by menstruation. Even so, experts say, girls need to understand what is happening to their bodies, so sex education at an earlier age can be essential.

Source: Study: Association of School Nurses, 1999 ,  

What Is Delayed Puberty?

Puberty is the time when your body grows from a child's to an adult's. You'll know that you are going through puberty by the way that your body changes. If you're a girl, you'll notice that your breasts develop and your pubic hair grows, that you have a growth spurt, and that you get your period (menstruation). The overall shape of your body will probably change, too — your hips will widen and your body will become curvier.

If you're a guy, you'll start growing pubic and facial hair, have a growth spurt, and your testicles and penis will get larger. Your body shape will also begin to change — your shoulders will widen and your body will become more muscular.

These changes are caused by the sex hormones (testosterone in guys and estrogen in girls) that your body begins producing in much larger amounts than before.

Puberty takes place over a number of years, and the age at which it starts and ends varies widely. It generally begins somewhere between the ages of 7 and 13 for girls, and somewhere between the ages of 9 and 15 for guys, although it can be earlier or later for some people. This wide range in age is normal, and it's why you may develop several years earlier (or later) than most of your friends.

Sometimes, though, people pass this normal age range for puberty without showing any signs of body changes. This is called delayed puberty.

What Causes Delayed Puberty?

There are several reasons why puberty may be delayed. Most often, it's simply a pattern of growth and development in a family. A guy or girl may find that his or her parent, uncle, aunt, brothers, sisters, or cousins developed later than usual, too. This is called constitutional delay (or being a late bloomer), and it usually doesn't require any kind of treatment. These teens will eventually develop normally, just later than most of their peers.

Medical problems also can cause delays in puberty. Some people with chronic illnesses like diabetes, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease, or even asthma may go through puberty at an older age because their illnesses can make it harder for their bodies to grow and develop. Proper treatment and better control of many of these conditions can help make delayed puberty less likely to occur.

A person who's malnourished — without enough food to eat or without the proper nutrients — may also develop later than peers who eat a healthy, balanced diet. For example, teens with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa often lose so much weight that their bodies can't develop properly. Girls who are extremely active in sports may be late developers because their level of exercise keeps them so lean. Girls' bodies require a certain amount of fat before they can go through puberty or get their periods.

Delayed puberty can also happen because of problems in the pituitary or thyroid glands. These glands produce hormones important for body growth and development.

Some people who don't go through puberty at the normal time have problems with their chromosomes (pronounced: kro-muh-soamz), which are made up of DNA that contain our body's construction plans. Problems with the chromosomes can interfere with normal growth processes.

Turner syndrome is an example of a chromosome disorder. It happens when one of a female's two X chromosomes is abnormal or missing. This causes problems with how a girl grows and with the development of her ovaries and production of sex hormones. Women who have untreated Turner syndrome are shorter than normal, are infertile, and may have other medical problems.

Males with Klinefelter syndrome are born with an extra X chromosome (XXY instead of XY). This condition can slow sexual development.

What Do Doctors Do?

The good news is that if there is a problem, doctors usually can help teens with delayed puberty to develop more normally. So if you are worried that you're not developing as you should, you should ask your parents to make an appointment with your doctor.

In addition to doing a physical examination, the doctor will take your medical history by asking you about any concerns and symptoms you have, your past health, your family's health, any medications you're taking, any allergies you may have, and other issues like growth patterns of your family members. He or she will chart your growth to see if your growth pattern points to a problem and also may order blood tests to check for thyroid, pituitary, chromosomal, or other problems. You may also have a "bone age" X-ray, which allows the doctor to see whether your bones are maturing normally.

In many cases, the doctor will be able to reassure you that there's no underlying physical problem; you're just a bit later than average in developing. If the doctor does find a problem, though, he or she might refer you to a pediatric endocrinologist (pronounced: en-doh-krih-nah-leh-jist), a doctor who specializes in treating kids and teens who have growth problems, or to another specialist for further tests or treatment.

Some teens who are late developers may have a difficult time waiting for the changes of puberty to finally get going - even after a doctor has reassured them that they are normal. In some cases, doctors may offer teens a short course (usually a few months) of treatment with hormone medications to get the changes of puberty started. Usually, when the treatment is stopped a few months later, the teen's own hormones will take over from there to complete the process of puberty.

Dealing With Delayed Puberty

It can be really hard to watch your friends grow and develop when the same thing's not happening to you. You may feel like you're never going to catch up. People at school may joke about your small size or your flat chest. Even when the doctor or your parents reassure you that things will be OK eventually - and even when you believe they're right — it's difficult to wait for something that can affect how you feel about yourself.

If you're feeling depressed or having school or other problems related to delays in your growth and development, talk to your mom or dad, your doctor, or another trusted adult about finding a counselor or therapist you can talk to. This person can help you sort out your feelings and suggest ways to cope with them.

Delayed puberty can be difficult for anyone to accept and deal with — but it's a problem that usually gets solved. Ask for help if you have any concerns about your development. And remember that in most cases you will eventually catch up with your peers.

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