Dispatch: A Chemically Enhanced Delusion: Environmental Chemicals Cause Early Puberty

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Denise Grady reports in today’s New York Times that girls today are increasingly likely to develop breasts as young as age 7 or 8. While obesity is thought to play a major role in early-onset puberty, Grady reports that some researchers suspect environmental chemicals with estrogen-like properties are a factor. “That idea is unproved,” Grady adds.

“People make these statements about environmental chemicals and so-called endocrine disrupters as though they were a reasonable scientific explanation for anything related to the hormonal system,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “It is not possible that environmental chemicals with barely theoretical levels of estrogen-like activity can play any role in the human hormonal system when compared to the endogenous estrogen that the body makes. Even the phytoestrogens we consume in our diet are more potent.”

ACSH’s Jeff Stier adds, “If our bodies were sensitive to the slight hormonal changes from ‘endocrine disruptors,’ then we would see more diversity in the onset of puberty from natural variation in estrogen levels observed in different people — but we don’t.”

"A far more plausible explanation is childhood obesity," says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. "Excess body fat contributes far more estrogen than these mildly estrogenic environmental chemicals, and excess nutrition is known to speed up the onset of puberty."