Tree-Huggers, Conservatives Worry About Puberty

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According to a new study, girls are hitting puberty earlier and that's got National Review and TreeHugger worried. On Monday, the conservative and environmentalist publications reacted to a new study by researchers at the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers. The study found that "between 2004 and 2006 twice as many Caucasian girls showed breast maturity at age 7 as compared to 1997." The study attributed the change to a combination of factors including childhood obesity and substances in the environment.

So how did coverage from the two news outlets differ? As you'll notice in the TreeHugger article, the author focuses most closely on exposure to chemicals in the environment. Brian Merchant writes:

Researchers worry that if the change is being triggered by an environmental factor, like exposure to a chemical, then there may be an additional cancer risk therein.

So the researchers have set about testing a wide range of household chemicals, along with the hormone levels of affected girls to see if there's a correlation. And I think that the first author of the study, Dr. Biro, has some sage words about the potential root of the problem: "It's certainly throwing up a warning flag. I think we need to think about the stuff we're exposing our bodies to and the bodies of our kids. This is a wake-up call, and I think we need to pay attention to it."

National Review, meanwhile, gives less notice to "chemicals in food" and more attention to parenting, child psychology and dietary concerns. Meg Meeker writes:

So why is this news such a big deal? For one thing, early puberty is terribly hard on girls socially, emotionally, and even physically. Research shows that girls who start puberty early experience higher rates of troubled relationships. They get bullied and sexually harassed. And when third-grade girls look like sixth-grade girls, adults expect them to act older, which makes the girls feel crazy...

So what do we do? No parent wants his daughter menstruating in third grade. Since we believe that early puberty is probably related to being overweight, let's take the bull by the horns and get serious about helping our kids keep their weight down.

Our kids are bludgeoned with food advertisements, and we aren't going to stop this. But we can train our kids in the ways of self discipline.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.