Black children are menstruating earlier than ever, and more irregularly

A recent report reveals that Black children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are starting their periods earlier than the average age. The study, conducted by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Apple Women’s Health Study, found that younger generations in the United States are experiencing their first menstrual period, known as “menarche,” before the age of 12. This trend is particularly significant for racial minorities and children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The study analyzed data from over 71,000 individuals born between 1950 and 2005 and observed that all groups experienced a decrease in the age of their first periods over time. However, the decline was most pronounced among Black, Asian, and other nonwhite ethnicities, as well as those from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Racial disparities in puberty are widely acknowledged. While children of all races are starting puberty at younger ages, studies have found that Black girls are more than twice as likely as white girls to experience early puberty. In today’s society, puberty typically begins between the ages of 8 and 13, but some Black girls are starting as early as 5 years old. This condition is known as precocious puberty, which is rare and affects only 1% or less of the population, according to the National Institutes of Health.

This new research is one of the first to examine the onset of menstruation in relation to race and socioeconomic status, as well as explore the regularity of menstrual cycles.
Zifan Wang, a postdoctoral research fellow and the lead author of the study, emphasized the significance of early menarche and irregular periods. These factors can potentially indicate physical and psychosocial issues later in life, contributing to the rise of adverse health outcomes and disparities in the United States. Wang also noted that a portion of the trend towards earlier menarche could be attributed to childhood obesity, which has been on the rise in the country. This suggests that the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity may be a contributing factor to early menstruation.

Early menstruation has been associated with cardiovascular diseases and cancers, while early puberty in general has been linked to depression, anxiety, and an increased likelihood of developing eating disorders. It may even have an impact on children’s growth and development.
Wang emphasized the importance of early counseling, menstrual health education, and personalized healthcare plans for young people, as early menarche can have negative health consequences. In a recent NBC News report, Black mothers shared their experiences with their children experiencing early puberty, with some girls developing breasts at 5 years old and on track to start their periods at 7. Factors such as diet, obesity, genetics, socioeconomic status, and potential exposure to certain chemicals can contribute to early puberty. Research also shows that rates of precocious puberty are higher among Black individuals. Unfortunately, racism within the medical field can lead to underdiagnosis of precocious puberty in Black children, resulting in inadequate support for their physical and emotional well-being.
According to Patra Rhodes-Wilson, African Americans often feel like they have no other options, so they simply endure the situation. However, she is now advising people to seek out new doctors if their concerns about their child’s health are not being taken seriously. She encourages them to persist in finding the help they need.