Monday, May 04, 2009

Mothers who exercise have smarter babies

A typical epidemiological fallacy below and very much what is to be expected of Nisbett. He has simply rediscovered the much decried truth long ago set out by Herrnstein & Murray: That middle class people are smarter. It is of course middle class mothers who are most likely to exercise to keep fit etc. So the "keep fit" mothers have smarter babies not because they exercised but because they were middle class. I have critiqued some of Nisbett's other assertions here

MOTHERS who exercise during pregnancy are helping to boost their child’s IQ, according to research by American psychologists. In a challenge to the conventional wisdom that intelligence is 80% genetic, Richard E Nisbett, a psychologist and father of two, argues that recent findings point to a pivotal role for mothers. Fathers, whether absent or doting, have relatively little influence over their offspring’s intelligence.

In a new book, Intelligence and How To Get It, Nisbett highlights the important part the mother plays in shaping her children’s ability to learn and reason, starting shortly after conception. “Children whose mother exercised 30 minutes a day score around eight points higher on standard IQ tests than children whose mothers were more sedentary,” he said last week. “Breast-feeding for up to nine months may increase IQ by as much as six points.”

Previous generations of mothers were encouraged to avoid doing much exercise after the first three months of pregnancy. The latest research suggests that using light weights, stretching and even running can be beneficial to some, though not all. Official advice in Britain is that the more active and fit most women are during pregnancy, the more easily they will adapt to their changing shape and weight gain. It will also help them to cope with labour.

In Hollywood, both Halle Berry, the actress, and Chris-tina Aguilera, the singer, have talked about doing “baby-friendly” track exercise during their pregnancies. Isla Fisher, the Australian actress, said she would never undertake exercise for herself, as she hated it, but tried it for her infant, Olive.

“Exercising large muscle groups increases the growth of neurons and adds to the blood supply of the brain,” writes Nisbett. Exercise and breast-feeding combined, he says, will raise a typical child’s IQ to about 114, 14 points above average.

Nisbett also argues that the way mothers talk to their children can help to increase their IQ. He encourages parents to ask questions to which they already know the answers and, if necessary, explain how they know them. This is said to encourage children to seek answers to their own questions.

Nisbett praises middle-class families in particular for setting what he calls “anticipation exercises”, in which children are asked to make predictions, such as where a submerged duck will surface in a pond.

He also says that children who successfully complete a task should be praised for their hard work rather than be called clever, because hard work is something over which they have control. His ideas are catching on. In Texas, mothers are being taught how to create an “educationally rich” atmosphere at home for their children, especially during the summer holidays.

Nisbett says the choice of school also helps. He praises Kipp, or Knowledge Is Power, the fast-expanding p r i v a t e school chain in the US, which trains poor urban children and their mothers to study 12 hours a day and take only short holidays. Kipp IQ scores match those of expensive private schools.

He admitted there is a thin line between mothers who artfully guide their children towards success and “helicopter parents” who hover over their offspring and suck all the pleasure out of their childhood. “But the mother is the most important IQ agent here. In families dominated by a father, there are higher mathematical skills but that’s all we contribute, I’m afraid,” he said.

The responsibility is not welcomed by all mothers. Ayelet Waldman, a Californian author who caused a stir in 2005 when she admitted that she loved her husband more than her three children, said mothers were already under too much pressure. Waldman, 44, whose latest book, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace, is published this week, said mothers were under pressure to take part in their children’s education in a way their own parents never contemplated. “Just remember . . . little you do to your kids damages them for ever,” she said. “Lighten up.”


Drugs 'can help mild depression'

These results are well within the range of a placebo effect

Antidepressants can help mild to moderate depression and should not just be used in bad cases, researchers say. Current guidelines urge doctors to avoid antidepressants as an initial treatment in mild depression. But an NHS-funded study of 200 patients from across England found the drugs, called SSRIs, were more effective than GP advice and support alone.

The team hope national advisers will look at their findings, reported on the Health Technology Assessment website. Study leader Professor Tony Kendrick, a GP and researcher at the University of Southampton, said although the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence wants doctors to restrict SSRIs to the most severe cases, GPs frequently prescribe them for milder cases. "Just because someone has mild depression does not mean it is a mild illness, because it can cause them to be off work for months," he said. "And often you don't have psychological treatments to offer because they're not available so you end up prescribing quite frequently."

In the latest study, researchers looked at patients across 115 practices who had depression for at least eight weeks and had not had any counselling or drug treatment. Half of them had usual care of four follow-up consultations with their GP over 12 weeks to talk about how they were coping and half received the same GP support plus antidepressants. Those who had the drugs had better quality of life at the end of the trial and for every seven patients treated, one showed significant improvement by 12 weeks.

Professor Kendrick said although the benefits of the drugs were small, the results showed prescribing them for mild to moderate depression was helpful and "good value for money". He said the findings would help GPs decide when to prescribe the drugs by assessing how long they had had symptoms and by scoring them on a depression questionnaire. "GPs are criticised a lot for missing depression, putting too many people on antidepressants and not putting enough people on antidepressants so they can't win," he added.

Professor Andrew Tylee, an expert in primary care mental health at King's College London, who took part in the study, said the results showed that that it was often worth prescribing SSRIs for people with mild to moderate depression. "The team do hope that NICE will take this finding into account in their current revision of their depression guideline."

But Dr Tim Kendall, joint director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, threw doubt on whether the guidelines would alter. "I think using drugs for mild to moderate depression doesn't make much sense because you're risking a lot of side effects," he said. "Self-help approaches improve people's self-reliance."

He said the evidence base suggested psychological therapies were best in mild to moderate cases of depression and the latest research may have picked up a placebo effect. "Access to psychological therapies has improved hugely, in Sheffield where I work GPs say there has been a noticeable difference."



tubal reversal said...

Most obstetricians recommend that women preparing to conceive visit the gynecologist to talk about everything from diet to genetic risk factors. For women with a chronic illness, such as psoriasis, prepregnancy is a perfect time to talk about treatments that will be safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding

John A said...

What is meant by "mild to moderate cases of depression" here?

I do wish some psych group would make a distinction between being depressed for a while, say over the loss of a parent, and having depression which lasts for decades with no proximate external cause. But because the symptoms are much the same at any given time, both get the same diagnosis and treatment.