30-year old mums have clever children – but so can you

pregnant_woman_looking_at_belly_1600_wht_14393Worried that the clock is ticking and you haven’t had kids yet?

The average age of a first birth has risen from 24.5 years to 28.1 years since 1980 and the latest research shows that thirtysomething women have the cleverest kids.

That’s based on an analysis of 18,000 UK births recorded as part of the Millennium Cohort Study by researchers at the London School of Economics. The study measured intelligence and obesity at age 5 compared with the mothers’ ages.

The researchers wanted to know about the impact of the age of the mother on their children and wondered if there was an optimum age to have children.

They found that children born to women in their 30s had the best cognitive scores outperforming children whose mothers were in their 20s and also slightly outperforming children of mothers in their 40s.

This is not altogether surprising as women in this age group:

  • are more likely to be better educated,
  • have children by choice,
  • have higher incomes,
  • are more likely to be in a stable relationship,
  • have healthier lifestyles,
  • and seek prenatal care earlier

They are also less likely to smoke, more likely to breastfeed and more likely to read to their children.

All these factors are likely to help the children thrive. When the influence of social class is taken into account there is very little difference between the children of mothers in their 20s and 30s showing that it is the behaviours of the mums and not their age which is important. However the children of mums over 40 performed worse and were more likely to be obese.

Although not a big sample of mums over 40 the study found that these mums were less likely to play with their children, perhaps because they have less energy. Or something the researchers didn’t consider – the older mums might be career mums who have deliberately delayed having kids and are too busy with their careers to play with their children?

So although having kids at thirty seems ideal you can still have clever kids at any age if you put in the effort with them.

Published in Biodemography and Social Biology

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What kind of drunk are you?

stick_figure_drunk_500_wht_11670Some psychologists believe that we turn into one of four character types when we are drunk.

Ernest Hemingway – someone who is barely affected by excess alcohol

Mary Poppins – someone whois friendly and compassionate

The Nutty Professor – a quiet type transformed into a confident extrovert

Mr Hyde – someone who becomes menacing and hostile.

The researchers, at the University of Misoouri-Columbia, found that most people who fell into the last category were women!

The largest numbers of drunks, 40%, equally divided between men and women, fall into the Hemingway category who were very similar whether sober or intoxicated with no apparent impact on their intellect or personal organisation.

Previous studies show that conscientiousness and intellect are affected negatively by alcohol so thesis something of a surprise.

Nutty Professor types found it hardest to keep things together. This group comprises 1/5 of us, mainly men.

Mary Poppins types would be compassionate listeners and look after you but only make up 15% of the population. They suffer the least detriment to their conscientiousness and cognitive ability.

Mr Hyde types are to be avoided. They are hostile and become more disagreeable with each drink showing the dark side of their personality. Most likely to suffer blackouts or be arrested for being drunk and disorderly and suffer more harm to themselves. Unfortunately a quarter of us fall into this category and 2/3 are women.

Scientists have known for a long time that 50% of alcoholism cane be explained by genetics. Researchers have now discovered that the RSU1 gene, which seems to light up in response to rewards such as chocolate, is also associated with alcohol abuse.

Other research suggested that blue-eyed people were more prone to alcoholism.

Risk averse parents……….apparently not in Lisbon, Portugal

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

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You knew it, didn’t you? Over the last 20 years, adults (both teachers and parents) have been on a track to eliminate failure and risk from our children’s lives. We are afraid our kids are too fragile, and may diminish their self-esteem, or worse, their happiness if they take risks.

Well, I have news for you. It didn’t work.

“Children of risk-averse parents have lower test scores and are slightly less likely to attend college than offspring of parents with more tolerant attitudes toward risk,” says a team led by Sarah Brown of the University of Sheffield in the UK. Aversion to risk may prevent parents from making inherently uncertain investments in their children’s human capital; it’s also possible that risk attitudes reflect cognitive ability, the researchers say.” The Harvard Business Review (link is external) posted this report, but alas, it won’t help us unless we do something about it…

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Reading keeps your brain in gear

woman_reading_book_1600_wht_7865 Scientists have found that if you want to stay alert in old age – keep reading!

People who engage in mentally stimulating activities like reading, letter-writing (blogging?) or even visiting libraries, have a slower rate of mental decline when they get older.

294 people were studied over the last years of their lives and were given a memory test each year.

They were also asked how much they took part in mentally stimulating activities when they were younger, when middle-aged, and when old. Then when they dies their brains were examines for plaques and tangles, features associated with dementia.

The researchers discovered that those who had little mental stimulation early in life deteriorated 42% faster than those with average activities.

In turn those with only average activity levels declined 32% faster than those with the most intellectually stimulating childhood.

These results were similar for activities later in life.

The scientists from Rush University in Chicago, who published the results in the journal Neurology, said the results confirmed earlier work but were not clear about the reasons. “Neuro-imaging research suggests that cognitive activity can lead to changes in brain structure”. The results suggest that reading and writing more and doing activities that stimulate the brain, regardless of your age, can slow down late-life cognitive decline.”

See also: Can you keep Alzheimer’s at Bay? and Old doesn’t mean stupid 

Breast-fed kids are more upwardly socially mobile

mom_holding_baby_boy_1600_wht_3453Two studies that followed thousands of British children through into adulthood have found that breast-fed children are 1.25 times more likely to move up socially and less likely to move down.

Breastfed children also had higher levels of cognitive development and lower levels of stress.

The studies followed children born in 1958 and 1970 until they reached 33/34 years of age.

Their social class was based on their fathers’ occupations and whether or not they were breastfed was recorded. The results were the same in both studies even though breastfeeding had declined from 68% in the 1958 group to 36% in the 1975 group..

The report was written by academics at University College London and the University of Essex. Despite the findings the experts still don’t know exactly why breastfeeding has these benefits, particularly in the short-term for babies’ health.

Dr Mary Iacovou, one of the researchers, said; “There’s lots of evidence that breastfeeding is good for babies in lots of ways. What we don’t quite know is why. Is it the long-chain fatty acids in the milk? (which could be added to formula milk). Is it enhanced skin-to-skin contact? (bottle-fed babies could be given more skin contact”.

See also: Breast best for boys

Do musicians stay sharp longer?

DSCF1131You have probably heard that singer-songwriter Glen Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago.

The 77 year-old has had world-wide hits with “By the time I get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Linesman’ among many others both pop and country.

He announced that he’d made his last album “Ghost on the Canvas”, planned to make a farewell tour, then retire from music. He says he was diagnosed early in 2011 but had suffered memory loss for some time.

You might think that Campbell has done well to be able to follow his dream for so long in what is an inherently un-healthy occupation. So what has helped him to keep going for so long?  Researcher and neuropsychologist Brenda Hanna-Pladdy at Emery University School of Medicine gave tests to people aged over 60 to measure their cognitive ability and memory.

She found that those who had played a musical instrument for ten years or more scored significantly higher on the tests than those with no musical background.

She thinks music lessons, like learning a second language, can help stave off cognitive decline and says; “musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of ageing….. Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.”

She doesn’t say whether or not the genre of music is important but when you think how many old rock stars are still performing eg the Stones and Rod Stewart, who are all in their mid-sixties, who didn’t exactly live a healthy lifestyle when they were younger, it makes you wonder.

P1000457A couple of years ago I saw Steve Cropper, former guitarist with Booker T & the MGs and the Stax studio band, co-writer of “Dock of the Bay” (sung by Otis Redding) and a member of the Blues Brothers band, performing live at The Ramsbottom Festival at the age of 70.

And more recently Paul Jones, former Manfred Mann frontman, was performing live at the Burnley Rock & Blues Festival at the age of 71.P1000879

Rock on indeed!

Original version posted September 2011

Middle-age Obesity & Dementia

stick_figure_overweight_scale_1600_wht_3853Obesity in middle-age has been linked to increased risk of Alzheimer’s  in old age.

Health experts agree that dementia levels, which have been rising since the 1980s, will continue to increase as we all get older, as it’s a disease of old age.

But increasing levels of obesity are putting more people at risk and individuals who are obese in their 40s and 50s have twice the risk of getting dementia in their 70s.

Research carried out at the French medical institute – Inserm, found that obesity had an increasingly negative impact on tests of memory and reasoning.

We still don’t know enough to identify the reasons eg it could be fat travelling round the bloodstream affecting brain tissue but most researchers agree that there is a link between obesity and dementia.

See other posts on obesity

See other posts on dementia