A study has indicated that early sexual maturity and obesity are genetically linked in women.
The research, published in the journal Nature Genetics, suggests that the age at which a woman goes through puberty is determined by a complex range of biological processes. It also indicates that women in some families may inherit a joint genetic susceptibility to weight gain and early puberty.
The discovery came after scientists identified 30 genes that determine the age at which women become sexual adults. Many of these were also found to play a strong role in fat metabolism, establishing a biological link between early puberty and an increased risk of obesity.
The study, which involved more than 100,000 women from Europe, the US and Australia, also concluded that women who reach sexual maturity earlier than normal are more likely to suffer from ill health in later life.
Researchers also identified specific genes genes that were involved in hormone control and cell development and that puberty and metabolism may be linked because reproduction depends on the body having enough nutrients.
Dr Ken Ong, one of the scientists from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, said: "We know that girls who are overweight are more likely to go through puberty at younger ages. Our findings tell us that being overweight and early puberty are intricately linked."