African American Child-Women: Nutrition Theory Revisited

Article excerpt

Pediatric research concerning secondary sexual characteristics and menses in young girls indicates that early sexual maturation is more prevalent among African American (AA) than in Caucasian girls. Research findings showed that as early as eight years of age, a very high percentage (48.3%) of AA girls experienced some sexual maturation in comparison to only 14.7% of the Caucasian girls. This phenomenon has emerged over the past 30 years. Since research also indicates that early sexual maturation is associated with myriad psychological and behavioral problems, it is an important subject for investigation. Several theories have attempted to explain early sexual maturation in AA girls. Nutrition, stress, hormones, and physical health have all been hypothesized as contributors to early puberty. However, to date, no attempt has been made to test these theories. This study is an empirical investigation of the nutritional theory of early puberty, as well as the relationship between body image perceptions and food consumption.

The Nutrition Theory of early sexual maturation was selected on the basis of previous research conducted by the principle investigator (Talpade & Talpade, 2001; Talpade, 2004). Those preliminary studies found significant differences in food consumption between AA girls today and those of a generation ago. The responses from the older generation of AA women were, however, based on recollections after 30 years. The present study found significant differences in the food consumption between AA girls who displayed development of secondary sexual characteristics (broadening of hips and enlargement of breasts) and those who did not. The physical development, however, was noted by the researcher and operationalized as a body image score. Thus, physical development was not corroborated by reports from the parent/guardian and did not include the growth of pubic hair. The developments of sexual characteristics were reported by a parent/ guardian.

The central hypothesis was that there would be differences between the food consumption of AA girls who experience early sexual maturation and those who do not. Further, previous research has also indicated greater perceptions of heavy body image in younger AA girls as compared to Caucasian girls, which could lead to differences in food consumption. This study, therefore, also investigated the relationship between body image perceptions and food consumption in the context of early puberty. The rationale for this study is that such information can be used to predict, prepare, and educate the AA population about the relationship between nutrition and early sexual maturation. Also, since previous research has indicated that early sexual maturation is associated with such problems as psychiatric symptoms and risky behaviors, breast cancer, statutory rape, sexual activity, and teenage pregnancy, a long-term goal of this study is to establish the appropriate support systems for these emerging child-women.

This study tested the central hypothesis by pursuing the following two aims:

1. To identify nutritional differences among AA girls who experience early sexual maturation with those who do not. (The working hypothesis for this aim, was that early maturing AA girls will consume high fat, low fiber, high calcium, and low protein diets as compared to the AA girls who do not show early sexual maturation.)

2. To investigate the dynamics of early sexual maturation, food consumption, and body image perceptions. (The working hypothesis for this aim, was that AA girls who experience early sexual maturation will report a greater perception of a body image and consume a high fat diet in contrast to those AA girls who do not experience early sexual maturation.)

Such investigation of the nutritional theory of early puberty has not been previously conducted, and investigation of the relationship between body image perceptions and food consumption in the context of early puberty is a new area of research. …