I kicked off this series of blogs about hormone disruptors with a look at the endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in food (see that blog here) and our environment (see that blog here). Hormone disruptors are important to consider in puberty education because of the widespread effects they’re having on puberty starting earlier in children.
In the last decade, there have been numerous studies on the link between childhood obesity and early puberty. Each study I’ve seen draws the same conclusion: children (especially girls) who are overweight or obese as children have an increased likelihood of beginning puberty up to a year earlier than they might otherwise. What the studies also show is that endocrine disruptors in food and our environment can contribute to obesity, with early puberty being part of the domino effect.
But how can obesity affect puberty? And why are girls especially affected?
Estrogen lies at the heart of female biology and its effect on puberty, maturation and periods. Diet, environment and stress all have a direct effect on the production of estrogen. Fat cells secrete estrogen in the body, so when there’s a higher accumulation of body fat, there is more estrogen secreted.
If you haven’t already read The New Puberty, by Louise Greenspan, MD, and Julianna Deardorff, PhD, I highly recommend it. They say, “Just a generation ago, fewer than 5 percent of girls started puberty before the age of 8; today that percentage has more than doubled.” And they believe that higher estrogen levels are influencing breast development. (Anecdotally, I have had mothers come up to me during class and share that their eight-year-old daughter has breast buds, which concerns them.)
One of the reasons childhood obesity is a greater issue for the current generation than ever before is changes to our diet. Before the introduction of fast foods, preservatives and chemicals, our diets included mostly whole foods. The proliferation of fast foods, sugary calories, coffee drinks and sodas has contributed to the overall increase in obesity in our country.
So what can you do about it?
Give your kids whole foods over processed foods and fast food
Try to avoid added sugars (easier said than done!)
Go organic whenever possible.
We’re so lucky in Southern California to have a lot of health-minded grocery stores to choose from, so getting the raw ingredients for these choices is easier here than in many places.
Want to make a family activity out of shifting to whole foods and away from convenience foods? Try meal prepping together once a month or once a week to fill the fridge and freezer with ready-to-cook dinners and easy-to-grab snacks. In addition to spreading the labor to all members of the family and spending some quality time together, this kind of activity can help teach kids what goes into planning ahead to make healthy food choices.
If you have any more tips or tricks for prioritizing whole foods in your family’s diet, I’d love for you to share them with me privately or in the comments on this post!
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