• Switzerland's news in English

Swiss girls reaching puberty earlier and earlier

Lyssandra Sears · 25 Jun 2012, 10:58

Published: 25 Jun 2012 11:09 GMT+02:00
Updated: 25 Jun 2012 10:58 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Swiss doctors have confirmed the trend recorded in the USA that the onset of puberty is starting earlier for girls.

A study in the USA has shown that one in ten Caucasian girls aged seven years old are showing signs of precocious or early puberty, such as breast development, the traditional marker for the onset of puberty, newspaper NZZ am Sonntag reported.

The study also found that the percentage of African-American girls developing breasts at seven years old was 23 percent, with 15 percent of Hispanic girls. Similar findings were reported in the Netherlands, suggesting that many young girls are going through puberty one year earlier than they did during the 1990s, when the average age was recorded as being eight years old.

Despite the fact that eight years old is still considered the normal age for girls to start puberty in Europe, Swiss doctors have also been noticing that they are seeing younger and younger girls, some as young as six years old, starting to develop breasts, newspaper Tribune de Genève reported.

“In my practice, I have many questions about early puberty, and more and more young girls treated for the phenomenon," Valerie Schwitzgebel, doctor in charge of the Unit of Endocrinology and Diabetology Paediatric University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), told the newspaper.

Nevertheless, European endocrinologists are hesitant to reduce the normal age to seven because of fears that in some cases early development is linked to brain cancers that would be missed if parents were advised that early development is normal.

The trend in Switzerland is also evident when looking at data from girls in the 1980s, when the average age for the onset of puberty was at 10.9 years old. A British study in the 1960s also found that girls were on average 11 years old as they entered into puberty, NZZ am Sonntag reported.

In the nineteenth century, puberty typically began at the age of 15, Counsel and Heal reported.

The effects of early puberty on a child’s development can be significant. A recent study in Melbourne, Australia, showed a clear link between precocious puberty and the development in later adolescence of depression, online site PsychCentral reported. Other researchers have recorded that low self-esteem associated with early onset can also lead on to other mental problems such as eating disorders.

In order to combat these negative effects, Swiss doctors, such as Franziska Phan-Hug, head of endocrinology at the University of Vaud Central Hospital, prescribe treatment to stop development.

“We do it especially in situations where the offset induces significant suffering or there is a small risk in adulthood of a failure to reach full height,” she told the paper.

Although the precise cause for early onset is unknown, studies have suggested that precocious puberty may be linked to high-fat diets, and to stress in the family environment. Puberty starts earlier in girls who do not grow up with their biological fathers, or live in broken homes, Dr. Richard Sharpe of Edinburgh University recently told the Cheltenham Science Festival, health website Counsel and Heal reported.

Further studies will need to be carried out to assess the exact situation in Switzerland, but in the meantime, studies from other European countries seem to suggest that the trend is certainly prevalent in the Western world.

Denmark, for example, has found that, since 2003, the number of consultations that have taken place that are linked to issues surrounding puberty have increased seven-fold.

Lyssandra Sears (news@thelocal.ch)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Montreux throws hat in Olympic rings
Could Montreux host the 2026 Games? Photo: Ivo Scholz/Swiss Tourism

Montreux is to put itself forward as the host city for the 2026 winter Olympics as part of a potential bid by the cantons of Valais and Vaud.

Geneva car share scheme could help reduce city traffic
Catch a Car is aimed at short hops within a city. Photo: Catch a Car

Catch a Car, already in Basel, launches in Geneva next month.

Swiss women will ‘work for free’ for the rest of year
Female employees in Switzerland earn 19.3 percent less than their male colleagues. File photo: Randy Kashka

Switzerland's gender pay gap means from today, Friday October 21st, women in the country will effectively be working for free for the rest of 2016.

Swiss luxury watches stolen in Paris raid
Police outside the Girard-Perregaux watch store on Thursday. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

The 10 Girard-Perregaux watches are worth half a million euros in total.

Brother-in-law arrested over murder of Swiss teacher
The victim worked in a school in Stabio, near the town of Mendrisio. Photo: Oliver Graf

The primary school teacher was found dead in Ticino earlier this week.

Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Designed to house 20,000 people, the bunker was built in and over two motorway tunnels. Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben

The Local takes a tour of the Sonnenberg bunker in Lucerne, opened 40 years ago at the height of the Cold War.

Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
File photo: Renato Bagattini/Swiss Tourism

Skiers in Switzerland pay the highest prices for their ski passes of anywhere in Europe, according to research.

Eco group fights Bern over wind farm plans
There are currently more than 30 wind farms in Switzerland. Photo: Alpiq

Wind turbines are “gigantic and destructive” machines, says Paysage Libre Suisse.

Vegan wins battle to be accepted by Swiss army
Antoni Da Campo will now carry out his military service. Photo: Antoni Da Campo

A Swiss man who was told he would not be accepted for military service because of his strict veganism has finally succeeded in making the army change its mind.

Geneva terror suspects to receive compensation
File photo: Emran Kassim

The Swiss public prosecutor has dropped the case against them.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
Photo: file
Some deodorants could cause breast cancer: Swiss study
Photo: Royal Savoy
In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: AFP
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
Photo: File
Bern argues over passports for 3rd generation foreigners
Photo: Broad Bean Media
Muslim pupils must shake hands – ‘no ifs and buts’
jobs available