What have cervical cancer and overweight toddlers got in common? They are both news hooks to exploit fears about girls growing up too fast. The cancer angle, remember, was that a vaccine against a sexually-transmitted virus might encourage the very activity that leads to infection by the virus (that would be sex).

Now comes the overweight story: heavier girls, on average, enter puberty earlier than usual; the earlier the puberty, the more likely girls are to have early sex; so being overweight at age three may lead to precocious promiscuity as a teenager. CBS' Jon LaPook aired this further list of problems that can be triggered by early puberty from researcher Diana Zuckerman: alcohol abuse, illegal drugs, psychological depression, learning difficulties. ABC's John McKenzie, having raised the alarms, concluded too late with this corrective: "In most cases, early puberty is not a serious health problem."

Obviously overuse of hormones in the food supply and excessive body fat in toddlers may be concerns. On the other hand, parental anxiety that little girls will one day grow up to become independent and sexually active is a natural phenomenon as old as the species--and requires neither remedy nor special news coverage.


Of course, TV sound bites don't provide all the info, so I want to make it clear that there is very good research showing that girls who develop earlier are more likely to use alcohol and drugs, be depressed, have problems in school (behavior problems --NOT learning difficulties), etc. They tend to hang out with older kids and then try to impress older kids by doing things that parents don't like. They also tend to become sexually active earlier, but not necessarily to get pregnant earlier.

What's interesting about the new study is that BMI at age 3 predicts early puberty at age 10. Obesity is part of the problem, although I agree that hormones in food as well as chemicals in creams, nail polish, etc that have an estrogen effect may also contribute to early puberty.

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