Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vanishing girlhood

An article I read today in Colorlines saddened and horrified me. Michelle Chen's Is Environmental Injustice Morphing Little Girls' Bodies cites yesterday's New York Times report, which discusses a new study:

The new study included 1,239 girls ages 6 to 8 who were recruited from schools and examined at one of three sites: the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital or Kaiser Permanente Northern California/University of California, San Francisco. The group was roughly 30 percent each white, black and Hispanic, and about 5 percent Asian.

At 7 years, 10.4 percent of white, 23.4 percent of black and 14.9 percent of Hispanic girls had enough breast development to be considered at the onset of puberty.

At age 8, the figures were 18.3 percent in whites, 42.9 percent in blacks and 30.9 percent in Hispanics. The percentages for blacks and whites were even higher than those found by a 1997 study that was one of the first to suggest that puberty was occurring earlier in girls.

The new study is being published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics. It was paid for by government grants and conducted at hospitals that are part of the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers, a group formed in 2003 after breast cancer advocates petitioned Congress to set aside money to study possible links between environmental exposures and breast cancer.
For the white girls, obesity was taken to be the primary factor-- a factor not relevant to the early puberty of the girls of color. One of the authors of the study, Dr. Frank Biro, "said he did not think weight was the whole story. He said it was possible that environmental chemicals were also playing a role, and added that he and his colleagues were now studying the girls’ hormone levels and lab tests measuring their exposures to various chemicals."

Chen's article adds this:
As Susan Shane explained in a 2008 Colorlines essay, early puberty tends to produce complicated dilemmas. Girls often find themselves physically maturing at a faster pace than they learn how to deal with sexual contact, and may face certain cancer risks later in life.

The findings dovetail with earlier research by the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, which has tracked elevated exposures to environmental toxins in mothers in low-income New York neighborhoods. The data reflect a disturbing prevalence of chemicals known to be endocrine disruptors, including common plastic ingredients known as pthalates.
Consumer society-- our society-- is mad. That's all I can say.

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