Early sexual maturity and obesity are genetically linked in women, a study has shown.
The discovery came after scientists identified 30 genes that control the age at which females become sexual adults.
Many were also found to play a strong role in fat metabolism, establishing a biological link between early puberty and an increased risk of obesity. Women who reach sexual maturity too soon are generally prone to poorer health in later life.
The new international study, involving more than 100,000 women from Europe, the US and Australia, found that many sexual maturity genes are important for the regulation of body weight.
Specific genes were identified that were involved in hormone control and cell development. Puberty and metabolism may be linked because reproduction depends on the body having sufficient nutrients.
The research, published today in the journal Nature Genetics, suggests that timing of puberty in women is governed by a complex range of biological processes.
The findings also indicate that women in some families may inherit a joint genetic susceptibility to weight gain and early puberty.