Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Our Children's Health

Two studies reported in the media today. First, 1400 babies born in the period 1937-1939 were tracked to see if being breastfed correlated with long-term health and social mobility. And indeed it does. But why? Listening to a researcher being interviewed on the Today programme this morning, I thought we had another case of overlooking psychological variables. He described how, unlike today where better educated woman are more likely to breastfeed, in the past there was no correlation with class. I took it then that his team were limiting themselves to nutritional explanations. So, I was pleasantly surprised to read:
The question is whether that's an effect of the breastfeeding - something to do with the biological process which has an effect on brain development, or about the activity itself - such as improved bonding with mother, or that people who were breastfed were raised in a better social environment.
Good. Let's hope they look into maternal depression too. It is extraordinary, though, how psychological factors do get overlooked. In our book we discuss research findings which detected a link between childhood leukaemia and sleeping with a light on at night. Possible explanations in terms of effect of light on hormones were proffered, but no interest was shown in the question of why the child had the light on in the first place.

The second study is Unicef's report placing the UK at the bottom of a league of 21 industrialised nations in terms of child welfare. Much of the discussion concentrated on childhood poverty and the government's record on lifting children out of it. But I think what concerns me most is the finding that "Britain had the lowest proportion of children who found their friends kind and helpful - 40%, compared to 80% in Switzerland", coupled with the findings from a Institute for Public Policy Research study that:
In England, 45% of 15-year-old boys spend most evenings out with their friends, and in Scotland the figure is 59%. In France just 17% of boys spend their time in the same way. On the other hand, European teenagers tend to sit down for meals with their parents far more often. Some 93% of Italian teenagers eat regularly with their families; in the UK just 64% of 15-year-olds do the same.
Bearing in mind the Roseto effect, we should fear for our nation's future health.

Of course, we shouldn't forget the point, made frequently in our book, that people's responses to questionnaires may tell us more about the way people wish to appear to those running them than anything else. Surveys have suggested that up to 54% of people would donate a kidney to a stranger who needed a transplant, but I somehow doubt that this would translate into actual donation. So, perhaps our teenagers just like to appear bolshie to interviewers.

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