This Week in Research: Early Puberty for Boys, Rising Sea Levels, & the Politics of Photos

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In this series, we look at the newest findings coming out of our area’s top research universities. We’ve got some great minds in Baltimore — let’s learn what they’re learning!

We’ve long been panicked about girls hitting puberty much earlier than in the past, whether the blame is placed on hormones in food or other environmental factors. But researchers from UNC, Johns Hopkins, and other schools have recently found that boys, too, are entering puberty as early as 9 — and no one really has a plan for how to deal with that yet.

According to the study, the average age for puberty onset (measured — and it’s embarrassing for me to even quote this, and I’m not a pre-teen boy — by “visual inspection of genitalia and pubic hair growth and physical measurement of boys’ testes”) is around ages 9 or 10, a full six months to two years earlier than previous studies had reported. African-American boys tend to hit puberty first, at an average age of 9.14, for reasons researchers don’t know how to explain.

“The famous ‘birds and bees’ talk may need to happen earlier,” said Marcia Herman-Giddens, the study’s lead investigator.
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If watching a sodden, power-failed New York made you breathe a sigh of relief, don’t relax too much — a University of Maryland study predicts that rising sea levels will cause billions of dollars of damage to the Washington, D.C. area.

“Our loss predictions at high sea levels are partly intended to account for these extreme storms. However, due to lack of information available to us, they underestimate direct losses by not considering, for example, underground utilities, or including economic valuations of interruption of business and government operations,” said Bilal Ayyub, UM professor of civil and environmental engineering. In other words, their prediction of $24.6 billion worth of damage over the next 100 years is an optimistic one.
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If a picture really does speak a thousand words, President Obama does have one big advantage in these pre-election weeks:  he looks good in photographs. According to a new study out of the University of Maryland, the 8,780 photos of the president published over the past four months had a “strongly positive” bent. And while news outlets actually published more photos of challenger Mitt Romney than of President Obama, the president’s pictures were more positive:  he was more likely to be pictured smiling, engaging with the public, and engaging with diverse audiences.



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