New study finds girls feel unprepared for puberty

January 4, 2017

Girls from low-income families in the U.S. are unprepared for puberty and have largely negative experiences of this transition, according to researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Their latest paper on the puberty experiences of African-American, Caucasian, and Hispanic girls living mostly in urban areas of the Northeastern U.S. shows that the majority of low-income girls feel they lack the information and readiness to cope with the onset of menstruation. The research is one of the first comprehensive systematic reviews of the literature on puberty experiences of low-income girls in the U.S.

The findings are published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"Puberty is the cornerstone of reproductive development," said Marni Sommer, DrPH, MSN, RN, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health. "Therefore, the transition through puberty is a critical period of development that provides an important opportunity to build a healthy foundation for sexual and reproductive health. Given the importance of this transition, the research is striking in its lack of quantity and quality to date."

The investigators used Qualitative Research guidelines to review the data from peer-reviewed articles with a qualitative study design published between 2000 and 2014. They used a quality assessment form as a further check of the data.

The age of breast development and menarche has declined steadily in the U.S. during the last 25 years, with 48 percent of African-American girls experiencing signs of physical development by age 8. "This trend may mean that increasing numbers of African-American girls are not receiving adequately timed puberty education¬, leaving them uninformed and ill-prepared for this transition," said Ann Herbert, doctoral candidate at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Although many of the girls reported being exposed to puberty topics from at least one source—mothers, sisters, or teachers—most felt that the information was inaccurate, insufficient, or provided too late. Girls also reported being disappointed in the information they received from mothers; meanwhile many mothers said they were unable to fully address their daughters' needs. Mothers were uncertain about the right time to initiate conversations, uncomfortable with the topic, and uninformed about the physiology of menstruation. The timing of puberty also influenced girls' puberty experiences.

The researchers noted that despite a strong focus on adolescent sexual health outcomes, such as sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy, clinicians and practitioners in the U.S. have yet to capitalize on the issues of puberty onset and menstruation as a window of opportunity to improve adolescent sexual and reproductive health. In addition, the current body of research leaves out many topics entirely. "For example, missing are the voices of adolescents with non-conforming gender role and sexual orientation," Herbert said.

Earlier research showed that irrespective of race, higher-income girls had more knowledge about puberty, were more prepared for menarche, and had more positive attitudes about menstruation, strongly suggesting socioeconomic disparities related to preparation for puberty.

"Findings from the current review suggest that low-income girls today expressed a sentiment similar to girls studied in the 1980s and 1990s—a feeling that they were largely unprepared for puberty and menarche," noted Herbert.

"Our review makes it clear that there is a need for new more robust interventions to support and provide information about for low-income , something we are considering for the coming years," said Sommer.

Explore further: School attendance improves when girls are given free sanitary pads and puberty lessons

Related Stories

School attendance improves when girls are given free sanitary pads and puberty lessons

December 21, 2016
Oxford University researchers say they have the first robust findings from a large-scale trial on the effects of giving puberty lessons and free sanitary products to girls in African countries. They have found that both the ...

Obesity and gestational diabetes in mothers linked to early onset of puberty in daughters

June 6, 2016
Daughters of overweight mothers who develop gestational diabetes are significantly more likely to experience an earlier onset of one sign of puberty, according to new Kaiser Permanente research published in the American Journal ...

Red meat consumption linked to earlier onset of girls' menstrual cycles

March 10, 2016
Girls who eat red meat often start their periods on average five months earlier than those who don't.

Girl's Puberty Book Project provides an international model for promoting female health in Africa

June 29, 2011
The onset of puberty is a critical moment for reaching girls with health messages and information, and the stakes are particularly high in countries where the HIV/AIDS epidemic rages and where threats to female reproductive ...

Sex abuse triggers early puberty and its problems

November 28, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Puberty can be a tough time for all youth, but for girls who have been sexually abused, it spells double trouble. Sexually abused girls reach puberty before other girls, a new study finds, and early puberty ...

Researchers identify possible link between the environment and puberty

June 28, 2016
Danish researchers have discovered a possible epigenetic link between the environment and pubertal timing. To a large extent, pubertal timing is heritable, but the underlying genetic causes are still unexplained. Researchers ...

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.