The Checkup: Eight is the New 12 for Girls and Puberty Age

Girls are hitting puberty earlier—and it's kind of a big problem

Photo by Thomas Northcut

• I remember distinctly when two girls in my fifth grade class got their periods. They were exceedingly proud of it; I was terrified, having no idea what a period actually was or meant. The rest of us finally caught up somewhere in mid to late middle school, what was considered a much more appropriate puberty age back then.

TIME has a feature in its current issue (they’re running a teaser over here) about how the puberty age is dropping. Now little girls—some as young as six—are showing breast development and getting their periods before reaching the double digits age-wise. Doctors are blaming a variety of factors, including obesity (fat increases hormone production), agricultural hormones, and industrial chemicals that leach into food. Besides the obvious horrors of having to go bra shopping for your seven year old, there are health risks: Kids who reach puberty too soon have an increased risk for certain cancers, and too-early puberty can disrupt body growth so a kid might not get as tall as she would have otherwise. Scary, right?

• The Institute of Medicine wants to put Energy Star-like grades on food packaging, so consumers can know at a glance how nutritious—or, well, not—food items are before purchasing them. I guess it’s a good idea in theory, do you really think such a measure would make a noticeable, measurable difference in people’s food choices—and, in turn, obesity rates? I’m wary.