The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Christina Pirello Headshot

Is the Early Onset of Puberty in Young Girls Linked to Meat?

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

American girls are hitting puberty earlier than ever before. A new study released by the medical journal, Pediatrics, reveals a surprisingly big bump in the numbers of girls going through puberty between the ages of seven and eight. In a study of 1,200 seven-year-old girls, 10 percent of Caucasians had some breast development as compared to 5 percent in a study published back in 1997. Worse, a whopping 23 percent of African American girls had started puberty as compared to 15 percent back in the 1997 study. And our eight-year-olds? The numbers are staggering. Eighteen percent of Caucasian girls and 43 percent of African American girls had reached early puberty, up from 11 percent for both groups in the 1997 study.

With all the studies and all the experts doing research, they say they aren't really sure what is driving this declining age of puberty. The study's lead author, Dr. Frank Biro, director of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati's Children's Hospital, says that the rise in childhood obesity could be partly to blame. Experts say that body fat is linked to the production of sex hormones and so the early onset of puberty results. Stay with me. The link is coming. Wait for it.

Dr. Luigi Garibladi, professor of pediatrics and clinical director of pediatric endocrinology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center says this makes sense. Back in the 1700s girls did not begin to menstruate until they were 17 or 18, which he believes had a lot to do with malnutrition. He says the assumption can be made that the steady decline in the age in which girls reach puberty can be linked to having more access to abundant food. I saw no mention of quality of food at this point.

Dr. Stanley Korneman, an endocrinologist at the University of California, Los Angeles says that environmental exposure to estrogens in plastics, chemicals and foods has been going up and that estrogens stimulate breast development. And he says that could be the link to early onset of puberty. Makes sense.

What is really going on here? I can just imagine that the smoky back rooms in Washington where meat, dairy and poultry lobbyists make their dirty little deals and hide the real facts about what is in our food are in hyper-drive. The information in this study, if people connect the dots, could blow up in their faces, and who could afford that? Not the politicians on both sides of the aisle and certainly not their clients, those pirates who peddle hormone, antibiotic and steroid-laced food to our children. And we wonder why little girls look like very big girls far before their time.

The solution to this problem is easy and obvious. Our children are being destroyed in the name of profit by big industry and factory farms who feed their animals steroids, growth hormones and antibiotics to make them fatter, faster. More and more yield of meat from an animal means more and more profit, and if we need to sacrifice a generation of children along the way, so be it. And these are not just the rantings of some liberal, tree-hugging vegan. According to Cornell University, hormones "reduce the waiting time and the amount of feed eaten by an animal before slaughter in meat industries." And that means bigger profit... faster.

While the childhood obesity problem is linked to the overconsumption of processed food, drive-through, dinner in a bucket and the sheer volume of sugar and other junk our kids are eating, we must also look at the role growth hormones play in the size of our kids and the age they reach puberty.

Wake up, people. If hormones can make an animal fat, what do you think will happen to us? We have always had access to junk food, but never in human history have we been the subjects of such an intense ingestion of chemicals and hormones. Dr. Andrew Weil states that more than two-thirds of the cattle raised in the U.S. are given hormones, usually testosterone and estrogen to boost growth. According to Cornell, there are actually six hormones commonly used in meat and dairy production: estradiol and progesterone (natural female sex hormones); testosterone (natural male sex hormone); zeranol, trenbolone acetate and melengesterol (synthetic growth promoters that make animals grow faster). Not used on poultry or pigs, (but only because they don't promote meaningful growth in these animals), the FDA also allows the use of rbGH, another growth hormone, to promote more milk production in dairy cows.

And here's where it gets really creepy. There is no monitoring of the female and male hormones, according to Cornell, because they are naturally produced by the animals so in theory, they can't really tell what hormones were produced and which were administered, so why have limits? But they set tolerance levels for the synthetic hormones. I feel safer; how about you?

And finally, according to Cornell, the declining age in puberty's link to hormones in meat and dairy has been of concern to experts for some time now because of the possible links to breast cancer.

What is it going to take for us to demand accountability from the people who produce our food and those government agencies that supposedly protect the health of the public? When will we pull our heads out of the sand and see the reality we face?

Cheap, commercially produced meat may be affordable, but the cost is far too high. Now hang on. I am not going all vegan on you. But this study is a reality check for us, to be sure. Early onset of puberty is no joke. Our girls are at greater risk of breast cancer, obesity and other life-threatening conditions. And while the environment and plastics may contribute to this problem, as may the overall abundance of food, the reality is that the growth hormones, steroids and antibiotics in our meat and dairy are the major players in this tragedy.

Dr. Biro suggests that families eat more produce (ya' think?) and more family meals together as a way to begin to solve this very real crisis, along with regular physical activity. There is also the option of choosing certified, grass-fed organic meat and dairy as a way to avoid the ingestion of hormones, which also supports a sustainable way to produce healthy animal products for us to consume. And you get to support small family ranches that, along with family farms, are the backbone of this country's food supply.

Good ideas all, but we also have to look at other options and invest in the health of our children before we lose an entire generation because we just want cheap, fast food. There are alternatives to meat and dairy that can nourish our families and children healthfully and affordably ... and leave a lighter footprint on the planet in the process. A well-balanced, plant-based diet can provide all the nutrients our children need to thrive and to live in healthy, normal bodies. Yes, it's more work and maybe even a bit more money, but these are our children -- our future.

This kind of blog gets people's noses out of joint. From cattle farmers to burger lovers who say they prefer a juicy steak to tofu, all the rationalizations come out. Ranchers need to make money to survive. People want what they want ... and they want meat! But in the end, the truth cannot be denied.

We live in a culture of profit-seeking leeches that are only too happy to sell us compromised foods and line their pockets with the profits gained from pillaging our health. When are we going to stop them? All we need to do is say no. Vote with your dollar; demand better quality. Remember that they want your money. They do not care about the health of our young girls. It's up to us. A collective voice demanding accountability and better food is the only way to reverse the trends that threaten to swallow and entire generation.