Tag Archives: kids

Childbirth can make women’s cells age faster than smoking or obesity

We all know that pregnancy and childbirth change women’s minds and bodies. A new study has found that women who give birth can age very fast, genetically speaking. But how?

Via Pixabay/marvelmozhko

Researchers collected DNA data from 1,505 different women from the US, with ages ranging from twenty to forty-four and discovered that having children significantly altered genetic markers of aging — telomeres, to be exact.

Telomeres are repetitive DNA fragments found at each end of the chromosomes, which protects them from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. At birth, our telomeres are long, but with each cell replication, telomeres grow shorter. Thus, telomere length decreases from birth to death and is considered a marker of aging. Shorter telomeres are correlated with outcomes like cancer, heart disease, and cognitive decline. Another cause of telomere shortening is stress,

Epidemiologist Anna Pollack from George Mason University and her team analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) – one of the largest cross-sectional studies charting the wellness of people in the US.

Researchers analyzed data collected between the years 1999–2002, a period in which the survey included telomere measurements, and discovered something unsettling.

Once the team had adjusted for things like age, ethnicity, education, and smoking status, they discovered that women who had given birth to at least one child had telomeres that were 4.2 percent shorter on average than those of women who had not borne children.

Researchers explain that this percentage translates to around 11 years of rapid cellular aging. Compared to smoking (a cost of 4.6 years of cellular aging) and obesity (8.8 years), motherhood seems to be the champion of accelerated  DNA aging.

The study also revealed that the more children you have, the more your telomeres shrink.

“We found that women who had five or more children had even shorter telomeres compared to those who had none, and relatively shorter relative to those who had one, two, three or four, even,” Pollack told Newsweek.

The authors attributed telomere shortening to the stress accompanying having children, but they are not yet entirely sure of the cause. This study was purely observational, showing only a correlation between the two.

A 2016 study that analyzed telomere size in Mayan communities in Guatemala found that women in the community that had more surviving children had longer telomeres, suggesting that having children could actually protect women from cellular aging. Researchers believe that Mayan communities give more social support to their mothers than the US does — a great deal of stress being involved in the upbringing of the US kids.

“Anecdotally, just chatting with my friends who have children, we all do feel that having kids has aged us,” Pollack said to Newsweek. “But scientifically, this does fit with what we understand pretty well. We know that having kids is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. And some large studies have linked telomere length to mortality risk and risks of other major diseases.”

Of course, having a child doesn’t mean you literally age 11 years. The authors write that their dataset lacked information on social factors, stress and fertility status, which may help explain these findings. With only two other previous studies regarding this matter being published, this paper‘s findings should be interpreted with caution, the authors warn.

school kids

Kid doesn’t like going to school? Your ‘bad’ genes might have a say in all this

Some kids seem to enjoy school activities more than others, but while efforts seem to be concentrated on improving teaching, a new research suggests that genes play a major role as well – sometimes they’re more important than the environment, as far as  motivation and doing well in school are concerned. The findings were reported by a team led Yulia Kovas of Goldsmiths, University of London that aggregated a swath of studies which included 13,000 twins aged nine to 16 from six countries, including the UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, Russia and the US.

school kids

Image: Psypost

“Twin studies” are good for differentiating between the given (genes) and obtainable (environment), since identical twins have 100% identical DNA. Any difference between the two genetically identical siblings thus arises from nongenetic factors like their home or school environment. Nonidentical twins, on the other hand, share just as much DNA as any siblings, yet they’re often included in studies  to further analyze the roles played by genetic and environmental influences. These kids had to fill out various questionnaires that primarily gauged two things:  how motivated they were in the classroom, and how much academic ability they thought they had. The researchers concluded that “genetic factors explained approximately 40% of the variance and all of the observed twins’ similarity in academic motivation.”

So, in some respects the findings topple conventional wisdom, but other people might chant what they already knew all along: all kids are not the same. When a kid goes to school for the first time, he’s not a blank slate, a tabula rasa. While all the kids in a classroom might start off from the same line (not knowing how to read, how to do algebra etc.), they’re evolution is individually different. Of course – that’s just common sense. The findings, however, suggest that cognitive ability isn’t the only thing that’s inheritable and plays a major role in how well a child might do in school.

‘We had pretty consistent findings across these different countries with their different educational systems and different cultures,’ said Professor Stephen Petrill, of Ohio State University.

‘It was surprising. The knee-jerk reaction is to say someone is not properly motivating the student, or the child himself is responsible.

‘We found that there are personality differences that people inherit that have a major impact on motivation.

‘That doesn’t mean we don’t try to encourage and inspire students, but we have to deal with the reality of why they are different.’

In other words, the best education is one that is individually catered. Yes, that’s expensive and prohibitive, but here’s looking at you, mom and dad. Who knows your kid better than you? Don’t expect school alone to educate your child.

Study abstract

Considering the striking consistency of these results across different aspects of academic motivation, different subjects, different ages, and different cultures, we believe that it is time to move away from solely environmental explanations, such as “good” or “bad” home, teacher, and school, for differences in enjoyment and self-perceived ability (Olson et al., 2014). The results convincingly show that, contrary to common belief, enjoyment of learning and children’s perceptions of their competence are no less heritable than cognitive ability (Greven et al., 2009). Surprisingly, unlike cognitive ability, for which shared environment makes a small to moderate contribution across the school years (Petrill et al., 2004), no such contribution was found for these motivational constructs.


Fighting unfairness at a tender age


Photo: lifehacker.com

Parents have their work cut out for them as it is, but the ordeal becomes even greater when they’re faced with an unscrupulous judge – their own children. We all know the drill: crying out loud, feet stumping, all glared with the oh-so familiar phrase: “IT’S NOT FAIR!!!”. Well, seems like in some instances children can teach us a thing or two about fairness. The kind of thing a lot parents forget – having a god damn backbone!

Put your money where your mouth is

A study by researchers at Harvard University found that children from a tender age have an advanced idea of fairness and are willing to step forward and pay a personal price to intervene a situation they perceive as an unfair. This decision is group-biased dominant in children aged six or less, but those aged eight or more were found to intervene in unfair situation and stop any selfish behavior, whether or not the victim was a member of their group.

“People have looked at this phenomenon extensively in adults, but this is the first time we’ve been able to investigate it in children,” said Warneken. “The idea that children would care about inequity happening between individuals who aren’t there, that in itself is somewhat surprising. They care about justice or fairness and are willing to intervene against selfish actions, and are even willing to pay a cost to do that.”

The researchers divided 64 children into two age groups (six and eight years old) and asked them to a play child-friendly version of the economic games used in other studies. Before the games commenced, the researchers established a group identity using “minimal group paradigm” in which researchers assigned each child to a team identified by the colors blue and yellow, rather than using pre-existing groups like race or hair color that children were already aware of. Thus, children were assigned colored T-shirts, drew using their exclusively markers of their assigned color, wore blue or yellow party hats, and so on. 

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After testing to ensure the children showed preferences for their own group, each was presented with an apparatus showing how children — represented only by paper bags marked with faces and hats showing which color team they were on — had divided up six Skittles candies the day before. Children were then asked to be a third-party judge of whether the split was fair.

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If the child approved of the division, the participants were told, the other children would receive the candy. If not, children in the study had to sacrifice one of their own candy pieces, and the candy belonging to other two players would be thrown away.

Both age groups recognized unfairness and were inclined to intervene, but sensitivity against selfishness became more pronounced with age. This sensitivity was indeed influenced by the group they belonged too.

“In 6-year-olds, we found that there were two types of in-group bias,” Jordan explained. “First, they were more lenient in their punishment of selfish behavior that came from a member of their own group. And second, they were harsher in their punishment of selfish behavior that harmed a member of their group.”

For the 8-year-old group, things were significantly different. While they were still inclined to show leniency when selfish behavior came from a member of their own group, Jordan and colleagues were surprised to find that they were equally willing to punish selfish behavior that harmed members of either group.

“The 8-year-olds were less biased than the 6-year-olds,” Jordan explained. “They were more willing to pay personal costs, and were less biased in the sense that they felt it was equally bad to treat people selfishly, regardless of what group they were in. They started to see out-group members as legitimate victims, or just as legitimate as in-group members.”

The findings, published in this week’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are most remarkable. They show that children have a well defined sense of fairness, and are willing to put ‘their money where their mouth is’. Next, the researchers plan to see whether this behavior is culturally influenced by conducting similar studies in Uganda and Vanuatu.