Girls who consume a lot of sugary drinks may enter puberty earlier than girls who don’t, Harvard researchers report.

Among nearly 5,600 girls aged 9 to 14 who were followed between 1996 and 2001, the researchers found that those who drank more than 1.5 servings of sugary drinks a day had their first period 2.7 months earlier than those who drank two or fewer of these drinks a week.

This finding was independent of the girls’ body mass index (a height-weight ratio that measures body fat), how much food they ate, or whether they exercised or not, the researchers noted.

“Starting periods early is a risk factor for depression during adolescence and breast cancer during adulthood. Thus, our findings have implications beyond just starting menstruation early,” said study first author Jenny Carwile, a postdoctoral associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston.

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