There are renewed calls to provide free sanitary products for all young girls, with a particular focus on those with a higher body mass, after new research found one in 16 start their period in primary school.
Dr Sarah Donovan, an Otago University researcher. says an increasing number of households are struggling to afford items like pads and tampons. leaving some girls with no choice but to stay home from school.
"We had a general idea of the average age but this data shows a much more significant number of primary school aged girls are getting their periods."
Ms Donovan says the data shows education on menstruation should start at primary school and bins and free sanitary products should be available at that stage.
"Now we’ve got an opportunity to make sure that we can address this in a practical way for these young girls so they’re supported when they get their first period and it’s not a shameful and embarrassing experience for them."
While reasons behind why girls begin their period at a younger age is unclear, Ms Donovan said there's concern for children living in hardship, with evidence suggesting a higher body mass index (associated with a poorer diet) can contribute to earlier periods.
Charity KidsCan is helping meet increased demand by distributing more than 16,000 boxes of pads and tampons in schools this year but CEO Julie Chapman says more can be done.
"Kids are staying home, they’re staying by the toilet, they’re using towels and cut up nappies, socks, toilet paper - all these things that in this day and age, they just shouldn’t have to do."