Study Points to Earlier, Irregular Periods in Girls, Health Risks Warning


A new study in JAMA Network Open shows that girls in the U.S are getting their periods earlier than before. This is more common among racial and ethnic groups. The research was of the Apple Women’s Health Study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and Apple. They looked at data from 71,341 women.

What the Study Uncovered

The study shows that the average age for first menstruation to 11.9 years for those born from 2000 and 2005 from 12.5 years for those born between 1950 and 1969. Those who identified as Asian, Non-Hispanic Black, or multiracial reported earlier periods on average than White participants.

The data also showed a rise in the number of girls having very early periods. The percentage of girls starting menstruating before turning eleven grew from 8.6% to 15.5%, and those starting before nine went up from 0.6% to 1.4%.

Irregular Menstrual Cycles

The research also raised concerns over menstrual cycle regularity. It showed that those reporting regular cycles within two years after their first period decreased from 74% to 56%. Irregular cycles can lead to health risks like cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders like diabetes, and some cancers

Zifan Wang, the researcher leading the study expressed concerns about these irregularities early on “Irregular cycles can suggest health problems later in life. We must do more preventative counseling and intervention about irregular cycles for children and teenagers.”

Effect of Race and Ethnicity

The findings have great significance for Hispanic and Asian groups. These have not been well studied in other research on menarche age. The study gives new understanding of the health disadvantages these communities face. Shruthi Mahalingaiah, the senior author of the research, said that early periods could suggest future health problems, and stressed the need for awareness and education to deal with these issues.

Possible Causes

The researchers think that many factors are causing earlier menstruation. High body weight and exposure to environmental chemicals, like those that can alter endocrine function and air pollutants, potentially play a part in this change. The researchers think about 46% of the reduced menarche age might be due to higher body mass index (BMI). But obesity alone can’t explain everything.

Other possible causes include unhealthy diet, high consumption of foods containing too much sugar, stress, and bad experiences in childhood. The COVID19 pandemic has been associated with increased stress levels and disruption in the lives of young children which may have accelerated puberty onset.

Health Consequences

Hitting puberty early and having irregular periods can cause serious long-term health complications. Early puberty is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and premature death as they are due to longer exposure to estrogen. A longer time before achieving normal cycles can lead to persistent abnormal periods which can later contribute to infertility and other reproductive health issues.

Importance of Menstrual Health  

The study emphasizes menstrual health is important for general health. Data about menstrual cycles can give important insights about reproductive health, heart disease risk, and possible endocrine problems. There are now digital tools and apps for tracking menstrual cycles. These improve the capability to collect and study this data, presenting new chances for understanding population health.

Demand for Attention

The experts emphasize that we need to invest more in early counseling, education, and one on one healthcare plans to deal with these new patterns. Mahalingaiah underscored the importance of recognizing menstrual health as a measure of vital signs and the need for large scale intervention methods to improve reproductive health outcomes.

Conclusion

This research reveals a worrying trend of girls in the U.S getting their periods earlier and at irregular intervals, especially those from racial and ethnic minorities. To tackle these patterns, we need a comprehensive approach including raising awareness, early intervention and systemic measures to improve health outcomes. As researchers continue to study these changes it is important that we invest in providing comprehensive menstrual health education while offering support to young girls and their families.


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