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Times of India
30 August 2010
By Pallavi Mukherji
Mumbai, India

Blame it on lifestyle choices or unhealthy eating habits, but girls as young as 10 are now entering puberty. Three decades back, girls got their first periods when they were aged around 13–14. City doctors say that girls hailing from affluent families are more prone to early puberty. Similar trends have been noticed in many American and European countries, the doctors point out.

According to Dr Rekha Daver, who heads the gynaecology department of JJ Hospital, "Studies show that there is a three–month decline in pubertal age every decade." Infertility expert Dr Hrishikesh Pai, who is a member of the Mumbai Obstetrics And Gynaecological Society, feels this decline is directly proportional to urbanization. "This should be seen as evolution," he says.

An endocrinologist at Lilavati Hospital, Dr Shashank Joshi, said, "The world has migrated from delayed puberty to early puberty in recent years. This trend is the outcome of prosperity. Many kids from affluent and well–to–do families are being overfed, which results in obesity."

Early puberty points to the fact that girls today are consuming a fat–rich diet. Fat tissues are known to be rich in oestrogen, a sex hormone associated with female fertility.

Dr Daver said, "With girls entering puberty early, they have to cope with many physical and emotional changes."

However, doctors state that there are reasons other than obesity and genetic factors for early puberty in India. Consumption of chemicals such as DTT, polybrominated biphenyls, bisphenol–A, etc, through diet, intake of oestrogen and hormone–laden milk could be contributory factors. Moreover, most canned or tinned foods have preservatives that could upset the hormonal cycle of youngsters.

Gynaecologist Dr Rishma Pai said, "Early periods can often be linked to various health issues like anaemia, stunted height and higher incidence of breast cancer." Menstrual cramps, uterine fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome and stress are also very common issues faced by girls due to increased exposure to oestrogen.

Considering that there has been an increase in teenage pregnancies, doctors advocate early sex education for kids. Dr Daver said, "Kids should be given sex education at 8 years of age. Families should discuss issues about sexual health as children are not mature to handle the physical changes."

An abnormal phenomenon occurring in kids is precocious puberty where girls attain puberty before the age of 8. This may occur due to adrenal, pituitary or ovarian tumours and hormonal problems. Sonography and bone age determination, hormonal tests can be used to determine this condition. Proper medication and surgical care can reverse this process.

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