American girls who regularly consume sugary drinks — including non-carbonated fruit drinks, sugar-sweetened soda, and sweetened iced tea — are likely to get their first period younger than their peers, according to a new study published Wednesday, January 28 in the Human Reproduction journal.
Between 1996 and 2001, researchers followed a sample of 5,583 girls across the United States, between the ages of 9 and 14, who had yet to achieve menarche (the first period). By 2001, only 159 of the girls were premenarcheal.
Researchers found that, even when controlling for factors like height, body mass index (BMI), and other dietary habits, girls who drank one and a half or more daily servings of a sugary beverage got their periods 2.7 months earlier than those girls who consumed two weekly servings or fewer of a sugar–sweetened beverage (SSB).
On average, the girls with the highest SSB consumption got their first period at 12.8 years, while those with the lowest rate of consumption were 13 when they got their period for the first time.
It is important to note that the sample was 93-percent white, and black and Hispanic girls often begin their periods at a younger age.
Though the difference may seem small, researchers point out that the measurement of one and a half servings a day is potentially much lower than that of other ethnic populations “in which it is reasonable to expect an even more dramatic decrease in age at menarche.”
The data also raise concerns of exposing young girls to the risk of breast and endometrial cancer in later life, which has been linked to earlier menarche. A difference of 2.7 months could be less significant than it seems, but researchers warn that there is evidence to suggest that daily SSB consumption can be modified by other factors, and “should not be overlooked.”