Girls developing breasts as early as 7: U.S. study

Some American girls are developing breasts as young as age seven, researchers have found.

The study, published in Monday’s online issue of the journal Pediatrics, looked at more than 1,200 girls age six to eight in New York, Ohio and California. It compared the age when the girls showed early signs of puberty against the results of a similar study from 13 years ago.

Over that time period, the age at which girls began showing early signs of puberty decreased among all races:

-Among seven-year-olds, about 10.4 per cent of white girls, 23.4 per cent of black girls and almost 15 per cent of Hispanic girls had started developing breasts.

-Among eight-year-olds, 18.3 per cent of white girls, nearly 43 per cent of black girls and just under 31 per cent of Hispanic girls showed evidence of breast development.

In comparison, about 5.0 per cent of seven-year-old white girls showed signs of breast development in the 1997 study, as did 15.4 per cent of black girls. No comparison data was available for Hispanic girls.

“The proportion of girls who had breast development at ages seven and eight years, particularly among white girls, is greater than that reported from studies of girls who were born 10 to 30 years earlier,” the study’s authors concluded.

The researchers have no conclusive evidence about what could be causing girls to develop teenage bodies earlier.

Obesity may be a factor since girls who developed breasts early tended to have a higher body-mass index than those who didn’t.

The study’s authors said they are concerned that girls who develop breasts earlier might not be able to cope with the social and emotional consequences, such as having to deal with advances from males and the hormonal changes that come with puberty.

Pollutant levels to be probed

Two different trained health professionals examined the girls two separate times between 2004 and 2006 to distinguish between breast tissue and fatty tissue, the researchers said.

Pollutants that mimic the female hormone estrogen might also be contributing to early puberty, said study author Dr. Frank Biro of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“Whether [they be in] food that they’ve eaten, or products that are used for personal care products, as well as products that could be used at their homes,” Biro said.

The researchers are beginning studies to determine whether environmental exposures to chemicals could be contributing to earlier puberty among girls.

It is thought that a combination of genetics, environment and individual factors like weight cause puberty to begin.

Previous research on puberty, specifically the menstrual cycle, has indicated that girls who start menstruating at age 11 or younger have an increased life-long risk of breast cancer.

Source: CBC News


Fidel Castro warns of nuclear war, climate change – ignores Cuba issues

In his first official government act in four years, Fidel Castro only spoke for about 10 minutes to the Cuban Parliament Saturday, nowhere near the hours-long orations that marked nearly 50 years of the revolutionary leader’s presidency.

And instead of thundering on about Cuba and the issues that most Cubans care about, including economic reform and freedom of expression, he stayed close to the subjects that have marked his words since ceding power to his younger brother Raúl Castro, including the threat of nuclear war and climate change.

“If there is a war, the current social order will disappear abruptly and the price will be immensely higher,” Mr. Castro said at the Parliament Saturday morning. “The planet’s population could be regulated. Renewable resources can be preserved. Climate change can be prevented.”

“What continues to be noteworthy is that he is speaking about everything but Cuban domestic policy,” says Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the conservative Lexington Institute think tank in Arlington, Va. “He has said nothing about prisoner releases, and nothing about economic policy.”

Fidel’s recent appearances

In the past few weeks, Mr. Castro, who reportedly came close to death in 2006 when he temporarily, and later permanently, stepped down from office, has reappeared in public life, making appearances to small groups and granting an interview aired on state television.

In his performance Saturday, he wore the standard olive-green uniform of his past rather than the track suit that has come to symbolize his recovery period.

Analysts have long suspected Castro of wielding considerable clout in the political affairs of the country behind the scenes. He is still head of the Communist Party, and writes in the state communist newspaper Granma. His recent appearances have raised speculation that he will assume a more public role after years in almost complete seclusion.

Most of his writings and themes have revolved around potential US-led attacks against Iran and North Korea and the dire consequences for each scenario. His reemergence in Cuba comes as President Raúl Castro announced that government controls on small businesses will be scaled back and as Cuba moves forward in its promise to release political prisoners.

Conflicting emotions

Last week, the award-winning blogger Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban critical of the government, wrote a column translated and published in The Washington Post, saying that Castro’s reappearance has generated conflicting emotions.

“Many analysts have pointed out that the man who was known as the Maximum Leader is hardly qualified to assess the innumerable problems in his own country …,” she wrote. “This pattern is familiar, with his discussions of the world’s environmental problems, the exhaustion of capitalism as a system and, most recently, predictions of nuclear war. Others see a veiled discontent in his apparent indifference toward events in Cuba. Yet this thinking forgets the maxim: Even if he doesn’t censure, if Caesar does not applaud, things go badly. It is unthinkable that Fidel Castro is unaware of the appetite for change that is devouring the Cuban political class; it would be naive to believe that he approves.”

His supporters seemed to care little about what he said Saturday, putting their attention on the appearance itself. As he entered Parliament, members called out in unison, “Long live Fidel!”

Castro spoke briefly and then sat next to Ricardo Alarcón, who is the head of the Parliament. It was his first joint appearance with his brother Raúl since the handover of power.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

Zardari faces flood protests in UK

Noisy protests have marked the Pakistani president’s visit to the British city of Birmingham where he addressed supporters of his Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP).

A shoe was reportedly thrown at Asif Ali Zardari as he delivered his address on Saturday and 250 people rallied outside to vent their anger against his UK visit, while Pakistan reeled from floods.

“They [the protesters] come from various groups with various messages but one thing they all agree on is that he should not be here,” Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Birmingham, said.

“[They say he] should be back in Pakistan, co-ordinating rescue efforts for those caught up in the floods.”

Some held up shoes to pictures of Zardari, while others held placards reading “1,000s dying, president is holidaying”.

One of the demonstrators told Al Jazeera: “He’s here living in five-star hotels while whole villages have been wiped out. I just think it’s a shame.”

Another said: “He should be over there looking after the people but obviously he doesn’t see them as people. He sees them as nobody, otherwise he would not be here.”

Unpopular president

Zardari was already unpopular before the floods hit Pakistan and he has been nicknamed “Mr 10 per cent” over widespread allegations of fraud.

“Zardari’s poll ratings are the lowest they’ve ever been,” our correspondent said.

“There are elections in Pakistan next year. It’s thought that the PPP will do exceptionally bad and most of that will be because of Zardari.”

The rally in Birmingham had raised expectations that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of the president and the assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto, would make his maiden political speech after graduating in June from Oxford University.

But in an apparent attempt to appease anger over the handling of the floods which have killed at least 1,600 people, the 21-year-old cancelled plans to attend and said he would instead stay in London to collect donations for flood victims.

Bilawal defended his father’s visit to Europe, saying the president was raising much-needed funds.

“He’s doing the best he can and what he thinks is best to help the people of Pakistan,” Bilawal said.

“His personal presence in Pakistan would not be able to raise this much money.”

He said multi-million dollar donations had been made by France, Britain and Abu Dhabi.

‘All lies’

The PPP is co-chaired by Zardari and his son.

Asked whether he was using his father’s UK visit to launch his own political career, Bilawal: “That’s all lies.”

During his trip, President Zardari met David Cameron, the British prime minister, amid a diplomatic spat between the two countries over Cameron’s remarks that Islamabad was “exporting terror” and looking “both ways” in the battle against the Taliban.

Zardari hit back at the allegations, arguing that Pakistanis are often victims of attacks on their own soil and insisting that his government is committed to fighting armed groups in the region.

In Friday’s meeting, the two leaders agreed to put the dispute behind them, with Zardari insisting that the two countries will “stand together” in the face of difficulties.


1,500 coke geysers

BILLED as the Great Singapore Mass Activity, the record-breaking event saw 1,430 Cola-Mentos geysers fired up into the sky, all at once, on Friday.

The effort by the students, teachers and alumni of Punggol Secondary School was good enough for the Singapore Book of Records – for creating the most number of simultaneous Cola-Mentos geysers here.

The educational aim: To create more awareness of science. All the participants had to do was to drop Mentos sweets into a 1.5 litre bottle of diet cola.

The result was a metre-tall fountain which lasted about three seconds.

Discovered about 10 years ago, the cola-geyser has been experimented on by various people, from television hosts to scientists.

Invited to explain the science behind the cola-geyser phenomenon at the event, was Associate Professor David Lee Butler from the Nanyang Technological University, who said that Mentos, which has many microscopic holes on its surface, when dropped into cola, provides a good surface for bubbles to form easily.

Source: The Straits Times

Google denies talks with Verizon to end Net neutrality

Google today denied reports that it is in talks with Verizon for a deal that could undermine net neutrality.

According to reports in today’s Wall Street Journal and The New York Times Google and Verizon, both major online players, are close to finalizing an agreement that would have Verizon speeding some online content more quickly than other content if the content’s creators pay for it. YouTube, which is owned by Google, could greatly benefit by having its bandwidth weighty videos get priority treatment.

Google, however, told Computerworld this morning that there is no basis to the reports.

“The New York Times is quite simply wrong,” wrote Mistique Cano, a Google spokesman, in an e-mail. “We have not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google traffic. We remain as committed as we always have been to an open Internet.”

Google, however, has not denied discussing with Verizon and other Internet companies the issues surrounding Net neutrality.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Verizon confirmed that it has been in ongoing talks with Google and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for 10 months.

Meanwhile, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told CNET on Wednesday that Google is trying to find a solution that would bring together the different sides on Net neutrality.

“We’re trying to find solutions that bridge between sort of the ‘hard-core Net neutrality or else’ view and the historic telecom view of no such agreement,” Schmidt was quoted as saying. He also would not say whether the company had reached an agreement on Net neutrality with Verizon, but that the two companies have been “trying to get an agreement on what the definition of Net neutrality is.”

Source: Computer World

Malaysian state OKs underage marriage for mothers

A Malaysian state is to allow Muslim girls under the age of consent of 16 years to wed in a bid to stem unwed pregnancies, angering the country’s women’s activists and politicians.

The Islamic council in the southern Malaysian state of Malacca on Tuesday announced that it would to allow marriage for Muslims below the current minimum age of 16 years for females and 18 for males.

“This is an outrage. We’re turning back the clock when there’s ample evidence to show that we should not condone child marriages,” said Ivy Josiah, executive director of Women’s Aid Organization, a rights group.

Muslims make up about 60 percent of the 28 million population of the Southeast Asian country and fall under Islamic family and criminal laws individually drafted and run by each of the country’s 13 states. Non-Muslims come under federal civil laws.

The chief minister of Malacca, Mohammad Ali Rustam, said permission would only be granted after consent by the teenager’s families as well as the state Islamic courts.

“For the state government, this is the best step to deal with the problem of abandoned babies and unwed pregnancies,” he was quoted as saying by the Utusan Malaysia newspaper.

Malacca earlier announced that the state would open a special school for Muslim girls who become pregnant out of wedlock, a move that also came under fire from rights groups.

“This is a knee-jerk reaction, and such policies should not be carved out by state religious authorities but the federal Ministries of Women, Education, and Health,” said Josiah.

Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said that underage marriage was “morally and socially unacceptable.”

The number of underage pregnancies in Malaysia rose to 111 in the first four months of this year from 107 in 2008, according to government numbers.

UN data showed that in 2006, the latest for which numbers are available, the rate per 1,000 births was 12 in Malaysia compared with 52 per 1,000 in neighboring Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.

Recent cases of babies being abandoned by their unwed mothers have led the Malaysian government to set up its first baby “hatch,” where mothers can drop off unwanted children anonymously.

Source: Reuters

Study: Obsessive Web Surfers Are More Depressed

Spending hours on the Internet may trigger depression, say researchers from Australia and China. Numerous studies have documented the link between mental illness and pathological Internet use, though the majority have found that excessive online behavior tends to occur as a result of conditions such as anxiety and depression, either as a way to self-medicate or as a manifestation of the person’s mental state. But what about the reverse? Could pathological Internet browsing lead to depression or other mental problems in people who are otherwise healthy?

That’s the question Lawrence Lam, an epidemiologist at the University of Notre Dame in Fremantle, Australia, and his colleague Zi-Wen Peng at SunYat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, wanted to answer. Using a database of more than 1,000 high school students in Guangzhou, the pair assessed Internet use and mental-health status over a period of nine months. At the start of the study, about 6% of the students met the criteria for pathological Web surfing, based on their answers to a 20-question survey assessing addiction to the Internet. These students reported feeling moody, nervous or uncomfortable when they were not on the computer.

Nine months later, researchers measured symptoms of anxiety and depression in all the participants and found that those who reported having been more addicted to the Internet to start were 2.5 times more likely to be depressed than those who did not feel so tied to their computers. This was true even of students who did not show signs of depression at the beginning of the study. (Researchers found no association between Internet use and anxiety.)

“This study has a direct implication on the prevention of mental illness among young people,” wrote Lam in an e-mail discussing the findings. “The results indicate that people who use the Internet pathologically are most at risk of mental problems and would develop depression when they continue with that behavior.”

Lam’s study did not address why Internet use might increase the risk of depression. It could be that pathological users become more isolated and less connected to others, which can trigger or reinforce depressive symptoms, though the study does not offer enough evidence to speculate. It could also be, as past studies have found, that people whose Internet use reaches pathological levels are somehow already predisposed to depression, either biologically or socially, and that they turn to spending time online when they are unhappy or having problems with friends or family. Lam acknowledges that this factor may not have been picked up in his study, although he and his team did account for baseline symptoms of depression.

Slavish use of the Internet could be a red flag for underlying depression, says Lam, so online behavior might be a useful screening tool for identifying youngsters, especially teens, who might be at highest risk. “It is because this sort of behavior may be a manifestation of some underlying problems that they are more insidious,” he says. “Even mentally healthy young people may succumb to depression after a long exposure of problematic use of the Internet, so the mental-health consequences of problematic Internet use for those who have already had a history of psychological or psychiatric problems would be more damaging.”
It’s also a confirmation that parents should monitor children’s online activities, not just for what they are seeing and learning but also for what their Internet behaviors might be telling the parents about their children’s mental state.

Source: Time