Harvard researches have found what they believe to be a link between sugar-filled soft drinks and the reduced age of girls experiencing their first period. The study focused on over 5,000 girls between 9-14 from 1996 to 1998. The girls in the study had yet to begin menstruation when entering the study. The study revealed that girls who drank 1.5 servings of sugary drinks a day experienced their first period 2.7 months earlier than girls who didn’t. Further, the study found that the rate of early menarche was independent of body mass index (BMI). The study did not measure soft drink consumption for younger girls which may also factor into results.
According to the study “our findings suggest that frequent consumption of SSBs may be associated with earlier menarche. A one-year decrease in age at menarche is estimated to increase the risk of breast cancer by 5% (Rosner and Colditz, 1996; Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, 2012); thus, a 2.7-month decrease in age at menarche likely has a modest impact on breast cancer risk.” The study also states “the amount of SSBs consumed by girls in our highest category of consumption, >1.5 servings per day, however, is likely low compared with consumption in certain other populations, in which we would expect an even more dramatic decrease in age at menarche.”
The American Beverage Association (ABA) in response to the study stated “Neither this study nor the body of science shows that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption causes early onset of menarche. What the body of science supports is that adolescent girls are reaching puberty earlier than prior generations; however, there is no scientific consensus concerning the cause of this trend.” Adding “this study’s findings do not show cause and effect, but rather show an association. Importantly, demonstrating association is not the same as establishing causation. In fact, the authors themselves note in their conclusions that sugar-sweetened beverages “may be associated with earlier menarche.”
While sugary beverages may contribute to earlier periods, there are other factors that can contribute to the issue. Environmental estrogens, which are derived from chemical pollutants like BPA, can mimic estrogen in the body resulting in earlier menarche. Links have also been made to childhood obesity and an increase in animal proteins in child diets. The ubiquity of all these factors have led some to consider the earlier rate of puberty the new normal.
Sugary soft drinks have been scientifically linked to a number of health issues including type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, gout and tooth decay.
Special thanks to R.A. Scientist for her input on this report.