Girls who eat a lot of meat during childhood tend to start their periods earlier than others, a study suggests.
UK researchers compared the diets of more than 3,000 12-year-old girls. They found high meat consumption at age three (over eight portions a week) and age seven (12 portions) was strongly linked with early periods. Writing in Public Health Nutrition, the researchers said a meat-rich diet might prepare the body for pregnancy, triggering an earlier puberty.
During the 20th Century, the average age at which girls started their periods fell fairly dramatically, although it now seems to be levelling off. This is widely thought to be due to better nutrition and rising levels of obesity, which has an impact on hormones.
In the latest study, the team used data from a group of children followed from birth.
At the age of 12 years eight months, they split the girls into those who had already started their periods and those who had not. Comparing their diets at the ages of three, seven and 10, they found that meat intake at a young age was strongly linked with earlier periods.