They also found, as other researchers have, that higher body-mass index (BMI), a calculation based on height and weight, was also linked with earlier puberty.
The authors said they can only speculate on the reasons behind the connections. Exposure to more artificial light from TVs or computers is one theory. Other possibilities include weak maternal bonding, assuming a single mother is working long hours, or contact with chemicals that may have estrogenic effects -- perhaps hair straighteners in the case of black preteens.
"It's possible girls in those homes are exposed to different environmental exposures, for example, toxins," Deardorff said. They may be exposed more to cosmetics and other personal care products, for instance, and some experts have expressed concerns about what they see as hormone-disrupting chemicals in those products.
Anthony Bogaert, a professor of community health sciences at Brock University in St. Catharines, Canada, reported a link between absent fathers and early puberty in boys and girls in in 2005 in the Journal of Adolescence.
Looking at a national sample, he found that those who had had an absent father at 14 had likely had an early age of puberty. For his study, he defined puberty for girls as the onset of menstruation and for boys, voice change.
"It is difficult to know why this relationship occurs -- for example, stress, genes -- so more work needs to be conducted on the exact mechanism underlying it," he said. This new study is an "interesting" addition to the literature on the topic, he said.
How can parents in father-absent homes compensate, if at all?
Until researchers determ
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