If your daughter is 10 years old and has started her periods, get ready for trouble. Or so say a slew of reports cautioning people about the dangers of early puberty for women such as breast cancer, reckless sexual behaviour and teenage issues which are believed to be the consequences.
According to a recent study done at the University Hospital in Copenhagen, an increasing number of girls are reaching puberty before the age of 10, exposing them to a greater long-term risk of breast cancer and raising fears of more sexual activity. A similar trend has been noticed in India too. Four years ago a survey conducted by Federation of Obstetrics\' and Gynaecologists\' Society of India (FOGSI) found that the age at which girls attain sexual maturity in urban India has dropped. And 80 percent of the girls in cities are reaching puberty around age 11 - two years earlier than in the past.
Gynaecologists in the city are concerned over the factors leading to this trend more than the long-term implications, which they say arenâ€™t established yet. \"I do see a lot of girls who reach puberty at the age of 10, which is evidently because of their modern lifestyles,\" says Dr Mukta Kapila, obstetrics and gynaecology, Artemis Health Institute.
A combination of factors such as lack of physical activity, diet, environmental chemicals, hormonal changes, physiological and psychological changes are being blamed for the early onset of puberty.
According to a recent report from University of Bristol and University of Brighton, UK, young girls eating a meat-rich diet have high chance of having their periods at an early age. \"Better nutrition is definitely one of the contributing factors for the early onset of puberty, which is why the developed countries witnessed this trend much earlier than we did,\" says Dr Geeta Chadha, gynaecologist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.
The general consensus among doctors, confirmed by several clinical studies, is that early exposure to adult behaviour affects the pituitary gland, which releases neurotransmitters that act directly on the ovaries. \"Early puberty reflects the maturity of the brain. So, when young girls are exposed to adult information on TV or on the Internet, their brains get mature faster, which is believed to trigger puberty,\" says Mumbai-based gynaecologist Dr Jaydeep Tank.
The good news is that most of the doctors don\'t see early puberty as a disturbing trend, as there aren\'t reliable studies proving the long-term risk. However, the word of caution given by doctors is to handle young girls with sensitivity. \"The trend is here to stay, so our children should be equipped to handle this phase in a better way. The importance of sex education in today\'s time can\'t be emphasised more,\" says Dr Tank.