Rising rates of premature puberty in Taiwanese girls might be the result of neurochemical changes brought about by the girls watching too many “idol dramas” featuring passionate scenes, pediatricians are claiming.
Yet-to-be-published research conducted by Cathay General Hospital pediatric department director Hou Chia-wei (侯家瑋) on 5,000 samples gathered over the past decade shows that in addition to obesity, consumption of fried food, brain damage and gonadal tumor — all factors that can lead to precocious puberty — overexposure to “idol dramas” on TV can also lead to the condition.
Idol dramas, a particular brand of televised drama in Taiwan, features pop idols or other celebrities as their major characters.
One example was that of an eight-year-old girl nicknamed Hsiao-mei (小美). Standing at 130cm and weighing 35kg, she already exhibits signs of breast development.
The doctor treating her determined that over the past year, she often joined her mother watching idol dramas, which forced her to stay up later at night. Added to the fried chicken and chicken skin she would eat while watching the programs, the behavior is believed to have led to early puberty.
Hou said Hsiao-mei’s precocious puberty was of the acquired type, the result of factors such as obesity, premature access to romantic novels or idol dramas, excessive eating of chicken skin or chicken rectum, as well as the accidental ingestion of makeup containing estrogen.
Hou said she suspected that idol dramas caused early puberty because watching passionate and intimate scenes often depicted in the genre excited the hypothalamus region of the brain, causing the secretion of female hormones such as progesterone and the follicle-stimulating hormone, causing the sex glands to mature too early.
Long periods of watching idol dramas can cause the appearance of secondary sex characteristics — features of the two genders that are not associated with the reproductive organs, but that play a key role in the selection of a mate, like breasts in a woman — to appear well ahead of normal time, Hou said.
Progestogens, named for their function in maintaining pregnancy, are also present at other phases of the estrous and menstrual cycles.
The average age for menarche — the first menstrual period — for girls in Taiwan is about 12.35 years and the average age of Taiwanese boys hitting puberty is 14.5 years, Hou said.
Hou said parents should keep their children away from idol dramas until they are in high school to avoid outside influences on their physical and mental development.
Other pediatricians expressed reservations about these claims.
Chou Yuan-hua (周元華), a doctor in the department of psychiatry at Taipei Veterans General Hospital, said the possibility of early puberty resulting from watching idol dramas was pretty low.
Past research shows that for videos to disrupt normal endocrine secretion, the signal would have to be strong enough to affect the pituitary gland, Chou said.
Neuroimaging research has shown that when adults watch pornography, blood will converge near the hypothalamus, causing images of that area to brighten, Chou said, adding that this only showed the watcher’s thoughts are changed.
Tsai Fuu-jen (蔡輔仁), a professor at the China Medical University Hospital, said early puberty was entirely dependent on genetics and that the influence of eating habits and other aspects is small.
In terms of the research on the relevance of watching idol dramas with early puberty, Tsai stressed it still lacks more specific scientific facts to prove the issue.
Most actors and TV producers were shocked by the reports on the possible connection between TV programs and sexual precocity.If this could indeed affect a child’s sexual maturity, they said, the Internet would be a more likely culprit.
“Wouldn’t fried chicken be more likely than TV dramas to cause sexual precocity?” asked TV actress Tammy Chen (陳怡蓉).
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CNA
TRANSLATED BY JAKE CHUNG, STAFF WRITER
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