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Reducing the Risk Of Early Puberty

Tips to avoid the big factors linked to early onset puberty may also keep your family slimmer and healthier.

Some of the feedback from on early puberty in children raised questions about how to avoid exposure to this condition in your family's life.

While there have always been some naturally occurring mutations which lead to early puberty in a small minority of children, the current sharp increase in cases has been linked to two main factors: childhood obesity and exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals.

The rise in our children’s excess weight—known as having high body mass index (BMI)—is considered the biggest risk factor for early puberty. This is likely because body fat produces hormones.

The American Academy of Pediatrics asks doctors to screen children using a healthy body weight. Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a measurement of weight to height, starting at age 2. A healthy BMI ranges from the 5th to 84th percentile. Put your child's height and weight into this BMI calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.

If your child has a high BMI and you want to do something about it, the CDC's online information warns that "the goal for overweight and obese children and teens is to reduce the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Children and teens should not be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a health care provider."

They also recommend the following tips for keeping your kids at a healthy weight for their age:

Help kids develop healthy eating habits. 

Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products. Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products and choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein. When you eat, serve reasonably-sized portions.

It’s also important to encourage your family to drink lots of water and limit or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages. So is limiting consumption of and saturated fat.

For more about nutrition, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010

Help kids stay active.

The CDC recommends children and teens participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week, preferably daily. Consider brisk walking, jumping rope, playing soccer, swimming, playing tag, and dancing.

Remember that children imitate adults. So make sure physical activity is part of your own daily routine and encourage your child to join you.

Reduce sedentary time.

In addition to encouraging physical activity, help children avoid too much sedentary time. The CDC recommends limiting the time your children watch television, play video games, or surf the web to no more than two hours per day. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television viewing for children age 2 or younger. 

Another possible cause of early puberty is endocrine disruptors in plastics, the lining of metal cans, cosmetics, and household chemicals. They include phthalates, chemicals that are used to make plastics soft, and bisphenol A (BPA), which is used in making plastic bottles, and influences the action of the hormone estrogen in the body. Both chemicals are hard to avoid. A recent study found BPA on store receipts, for example. But there are ways to try:

Cut back on your family's exposure to endocrine disrupters.

  • Buy frozen or fresh foods instead of canned goods. Eat organic when possible.
  • Avoid polycarbonate plastic bottles with the PC number 7 recycling code; they contain BPA.
  • If you use baby formula, use powdered instead of premixed. The Environmental Working Group reports that the plastic bottles used in liquid baby formula may leach excessive amounts of BPA.
  • Check labels on cosmetics and shampoos for phthalates. The Environmental Working Group's cosmetic safety database is a good way to look up the chemical content of your favorite products, and find safer ones.

Ultimately, eating whole, fresh foods that are organic and hormone-free when possible is a good rule of thumb here. markets are a great place to shop for these because all their meat and dairy is hormone-free at a very decent price.

Also, it's a good idea to try and move away from plastics for food and beverage storage. We use pyrex glass containers and stainless steel water bottles. None of these changes are easy to make perfectly, but moving in this direction should make your family a healthier one overall, no matter what.

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