FOX Files: Girls Going Through Puberty Earlier

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI-FOX2now.com) — Girls are hitting puberty younger than any generation in history. A recent study in pediatrics magazine found 15 percent of all girls are starting to develop breasts as young as seven years old.

"We probably get a dozen phone calls a week of referrals of children mostly girls who are developing early." said Pediatric Endocrinologist Dr. Susan Myers.

Dr. Susan Meyers at Cardinal Glennon Childrens Hospital is seeing an increase in girls going through precocious puberty. It is a term for girls whose bodies and hormones develop too soon. Normal puberty is anything between eight and twelve.

Tara Anderson of St. Peters is now eleven. She started going through puberty when she was five. Her father Gery knew something was wrong.

"She has what's called precocious puberty. Her bones were aging faster than they were growing. So she could have fully matured at an early age like 4 and a half feet tall and fully developed by 3rd grade." said Gery Anderson.

Tara goes to Dr. Myers for monthly shots which helped put her hormone and body development on pace with other kids her age.

The medication will likely give Tara an extra 6 inches of height. The numbers are higher for African American girls. 23 percent of those girls studied hit puberty by age seven. Doctors really aren't sure why this is happening but body fat may be to blame. A third of all children are now overweight. More children are born prematurely which can lead to "catch up growth". Environmental chemicals are also blamed.

"If a girl younger than 8 has breast development and sometimes it's hard to tell between fatty breast tissue and true breast tissue, but a breast bud feels like an m and m, like a little disc then you should schedule an appointment with the child's primary care physician."

Puberty doesn't mean the girls are starting their menstrual cycles early. Doctors tell me girls are still averaging about 12 years old to menstruate.

Other side affects of precocious puberty are behavior problems as adolescents, problems with self esteem, body image, eating disorders, depression and an increased risk to breast and uterine cancer because they're exposed to estrogen longer.

There is no evidence that boys are maturing early.