Age of puberty and "chemicals in our food"

We were having the neighbors over for dinner, and the conversation drifted towards the challenges of parenting adolescent children. Someone mentioned that kids seem to be maturing at an earlier age than “when we were growing up”. In particular, the age of female’s first period was part of the discussion.

My neighbor (female) said something like, “You know, it’s because of all those hormones and chemicals that are in meat nowadays.” Maybe she didn’t say just meat, but the general idea was that “they” were putting stuff in our food that causes kids (particularly females) to mature earlier than they otherwise would.

I was kind of stunned, because I had never heard that one before. I think that I’d have noticed if this is some legitimate hypothesis among nutritionists, but I have a hard time believing it. I didn’t argue about it, and found something more pleasant to talk about.

So, I ask the SD experts - is there any evidence that food additives are responsible for earlier maturity? Is this a common misconception?

No, there is no evidence. There is some evidence that the age of puberty has gone down in the last 50 years or so, but it’s pretty well correlated to more calories. Did your friend also point out how many fat kids there are nowadays?

Yes, it’s a very common misconception.

No, there’s no convincing evidence for it. The evidence we do have is entirely base don correlation. In other words children started maturing earlier when we started using of hormones. Of course the use of hormones accompanied a whole range of other social and technical changes including the green revolution, birth control pills and antibiotics. In short children now are better fed and less sick than ever before. That alone can account for early puberty.

There is also credible evidence that girls enter puberty earlier f the do not have a constant father figure present in their lives. The increase in single mother families by itself can account for a shift in the age of menarche to some degree.

I’m too lazy to look it up but I’ve read about longer time spent under artificial light as also being hypothesized for earlier maturation. This one could be hooey though… just another possibility to throw in.