By Julia Belluz - Thursday, October 11, 2012 - 0 Comments
With the global population ballooning to seven billion, Science-ish wonders whether journalists around the world are in on a conspiracy to lower birth rates by scaring would-be parents with crazy stories about pregnancy risks. Consider the headlines this week: We learned that “depression in pregnancy can slow a child’s development” and that a mother’s fish and mercury intake is linked to attention-deficit hyperactivity-disorder behaviours in her kids.
This isn’t just the result of a slow news week. Science-ish has been tracking the health stories targeted at expectant parents over the last year, and they have ranged from the silly to the farcical, and always with a dash of fear mongering.
Last September, the BBC reported that eating low-fat yogurt—not the Greek, or half-fat types—during pregnancy may induce asthma and hay fever in children. The Guardian reported on a study that linked a mother’s sleeping position to stillbirths, recommending specifically that she sleep on her left side or else risk having one. Would moms be able to sleep at all after that chilling report? Fox News wrote: “Mother’s hypertension during pregnancy may affect child’s IQ later in life” and that “Women who get pregnant while dieting increase babies’ obesity risk.” And there was no shortage of reporting on the scary chemicals in our environment that can harm wee ones, even before conception. A telling headline from Mother Nature Network: “BPA exposure linked to abnormal egg development.”
By Cathy Gulli - Monday, May 28, 2012 at 1:27 PM - 0 Comments
Some kids may simply be less mature than their peers, and under pressure to perform to unfair norms
“Mommy knows best” is a popular expression but it’s not a universally accepted truth. Several months ago, Jacqueline Howard refused to believe that her eight-year-old son Oliver had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Oliver’s teachers, however, “just wanted him medicated and to be very compliant and quiet in class. And the psychologists [wanted] to engage my son in huge amounts of counselling and programs,” recalls Howard.
But she had her own explanation for Oliver’s supposed bad behaviour in school. Born in mid-December, he was the youngest student in a split class of third and fourth graders, making some of his peers up to three years older than him. “So of course he’s noticeably immature. Of course he’s noticeably unfocused,” says Howard. “My gut instinct was that there’s not much wrong with my son. He’s just stressed out and people are setting really high expectations for him at a really young age, which he can’t fulfill.”
Howard’s view—as seemingly logical as it was maternal—was nonetheless largely dismissed, even after groundbreaking research published in the March issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that, yes, in fact, the youngest children in a class are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. “It seemed that a lack of maturity was, in some cases, being misinterpreted,” explains Richard Morrow, lead author of the study and health research analyst for the PharmacoEpidemiology Group at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The findings “are definitely of concern,” he says. “We want to avoid medicalizing a normal range of childhood behaviour. Children mature naturally at different rates.”
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
It’s seems to be a truth universally acknowledged in the scientific literature that women are the sadder sex. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer depression, and recent reports out of Canada add to the body of evidence on the collective female funk. According to Public Health Agency of Canada researchers, suicide rates are on the rise among teenage girls while they are dropping among young men. Another recent survey of 26,000 students across Canada found a higher prevalence of “emotional problems” among girls. In particular, while girls and boys reported feelings of depression at about the same rate in grade six, by grade 10, an inequality emerges: Thirty-eight per cent of girls reported feeling blue on a weekly basis, compared to 25 per cent of boys.
As one epidemiologist summed it up for Science-ish, “There is a saying among researchers at the population level: ‘Women live longer but they suffer more.’”
Theories about this gender gap in depression abound. There’s the biological explanation: Some say swinging sex hormones during a woman’s “window of vulnerability”—or her reproductive years—explain why females are twice as likely as males to develop depression starting around puberty. As this review put it, “Women are at a particularly high risk for depression during periods of hormonal fluctuation, such as during the premenstrual period, pregnancy, the postpartum period, the transition to menopause, and the early postmenopausal years.”
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 12:09 PM - 0 Comments
There were a couple of troubling reports about the use of prescription drugs to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and youth this week. The Vancouver Sun reported “a striking increase” in the rate of second-generation antipsychotics prescribed to kids. South of the border, the New York Times ran a big op-ed entitled “Ritalin Gone Wrong,” in which a psychology professor rang alarm bells over the three million U.S. children who take stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall for “problems in focusing.” With more than 40 years of experience under his belt, the professor said “we should be asking why we rely so heavily on these drugs,” adding that few physicians and parents “seem to be aware of what we have been learning about the lack of effectiveness of these drugs.”
By Rachel Mendleson - Monday, February 23, 2009 at 9:40 AM - 768 Comments
As parents fight for scarce resources, bright young minds are left to languish
Jenn Marshall hadn’t started teaching her son to read. So she was surprised when she overheard Jeremy, barely four, sounding out words on a page in their basement apartment in Mississauga, Ont. Apparently, he had figured it out himself. Only when he started school did she realize how different he was. As his classmates learned phonics, Marshall says her son, who by five had graduated to the Harry Potter series, sat alone with a novel.
Despite Jeremy’s abilities, his overall performance was poor. Still, at the end of Grade 1, his teacher suggested he might be gifted, and thus eligible for a place in a specialized class. But when Marshall, who asked that her real name not be used, approached the principal, she was told that because of Jeremy’s poor handwriting and social skills, “he would never become a priority for testing.” Desperate, she cut off the family’s Internet service to save for a private assessment. But when she presented the results—Jeremy was found to possess profound giftedness as well as signs of a learning disability—his Grade 2 teacher piled on extra work, and chastised him when he encountered difficulties. “She was always saying things like ‘Aren’t you supposed to be smart?’ ” says Marshall.