Study Links Obesity To Early Puberty

Nearly 15% of young girls are overweight, more than quadruple the number 25 years ago. As Dr. Jon LaPook reports, a new study suggests obesity in preschoolers can lead to early puberty.
Vicki Meyers is concerned that her 4 year old, Patricia, might grow up too fast, CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reports.

"It's hard enough for a 12 year old to go through it, let alone an 8 year old," Meyers says. "I want her to be a happy. healthy kid."

She has reason to worry: A new study shows obesity in pre-schoolers can lead to early puberty.

"What this new study tells us is that parents have to be concerned about obesity even when their children are only 2 or 3 years old," says psychologist Dr. Diana Zuckerman, of the National Research Center for Women and Families. "I think that's the shock."

The study followed 354 girls over a decade. Researchers found at age 9, 80 percent of the obese girls were entering puberty. In contrast, only 58 percent of overweight girls and 40 percent of normal-weight girls were entering puberty at that age.

"Our study suggests that there is a link between body fat and earlier onset of puberty, but unfortunately, we don't understand the mechanism by which this happens," says the study's author, Dr. Joyce Lee.

But experts do understand it can lead to problems.

"Girls who develop earlier are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, are more likely to be depressed and moody and have problems in school," Zuckerman says. She is alarmed by this trend.

"We live in a culture where there is a lot of pressure on little girls to grow up too fast," she says. "Parents really have to talk to their children, talk to their daughters, talk to their sons as well, so that these girls can know how to cope with those raging hormones that are causing this early development."

This study is yet more evidence that weight matters.