Some trends are good, and others are bad. And here’s one that really worries me: Girls are hitting puberty earlier and earlier.
That’s a problem, because the younger girls are when they start menstruating, the greater their lifetime risk is for breast cancer. In addition, girls who start having periods early have a greater risk of developing depression.
So what’s behind this troublesome trend? Scientists don’t know, but this week researchers at Harvard fingered one possible culprit: sugary drinks like soda and sweetened tea and fruit juice.
The researchers examined data collected from nearly 5,600 9- to 14-year-old girls between 1996 and 2001. Controlling for body mass index, food intake, and exercise, they found that girls who drank more than one-and-a-half servings of sugary drinks per day had their first period an average of 2.7 months earlier than those who drank two or fewer sugary drinks a week.
While the researchers don’t know why early puberty and sugary drinks might be connected, they note that these drinks cause a rapid spike in insulin concentrations. That, in turn, can lead to higher concentrations of sex hormones.
While it’s too early to say conclusively that sugary drinks play a role in early puberty, they’re already linked to everything from obesity and diabetes to tooth decay. So there are more than enough reasons to break your kids’ sugary-drink habit—but not by substituting artificially-sweetened drinks, which are bad in their own way.) Here are some better alternatives:
- Green tea
- Herbal teas
- Smoothies made with healthy fruits and veggies
- Sparkling water with a couple of strawberries or orange slices tossed in
- Coffee, for older teens
It can be tough for kids to break the sugary-drink habit, so go easy on them if they’re cranky at first (especially if you’re weaning them off caffeinated drinks). A little crabbiness is a small price to pay for making your kids healthier, and for possibly protecting a daughter from early puberty. After all—don’t our kids grow up fast enough already?
Keep thinking big and living bold!