April and May research news highlights

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Selected highlights of journal papers and other research published in April and May 2018 using data from CLOSER’s eight longitudinal and cohort studies.

Preconception health: how important are nutrition and lifestyle for future health?

Data from the Southampton Women’s Survey features in a new paper, which has reviewed evidence from low-, middle-, and high-income countries on mothers’ preconception nutrition and lifestyle.  The paper, published in The Lancet, is the first in a series of three papers exploring preconception health. Led by Professor Judith Stephenson, of University College London (UCL), the team found several studies which show that taking supplements can benefit mothers’ nutrient deficiencies experienced during pregnancy, however, there is little evidence to suggest taking them has an effect on the child’s health. As a result of their review, the authors put forward a number of policy interventions including a call for more to be done to improve awareness about the importance of preconception health, particularly regarding diet and nutrition. Read more.

Are patterns of work and family life linked to age of retirement?

New research, using the MRC National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD), has studied the relationship between work, family life and retirement. The researchers, led by Dr Mai Stafford, of UCL, examined women who were in paid work at age 60-64, and at age 68-69 for men. For NSHD participants, women could claim the State Pension at age 60, while men were entitled to the payments from age 65. The study found that women who had children in their 30s were more likely to work full-time at age 60-64 compared to those who had started their family in their 20s. Additionally, they found that men and women who had been in continuous work and had no children between ages 16-51 were less likely to work in their 60s. The paper was published in the European Journal of Ageing. Read more.

Women who start menopause later in life tend to have a better memory

Researchers, led by Professor Diana Kuh, of UCL, have used data from NSHD to investigate whether there is a link between the age at which women experience menopause and their cognitive function across the lifecourse. The paper, featured in Neurology, used information from 1,315 women, who knew how old they were when they began menopause, to examine their cognitive test scores taken at ages 43, 53, 60-64, and 69. The average age that women experienced menopause was 49 years, 7 months. The study found that those who started the menopause later in life tended to perform better on verbal memory tests. The researchers believe this suggests there is an association between memory and lifelong hormonal processes rather than the short-term fluctuations experienced during menopause. Read more.

Gender differences in the development of autistic social traits

A new study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, has explored how autistic social traits, such as difficulty understanding non-verbal communication like eye contact or facial expressions, develop differently for girls and boys as they enter adolescence. The researchers examined data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) when participants were aged 7, 10, 13 and 16 years old. The team, led by Dr William Mandy, of UCL, found evidence to suggest there are gender differences in the development of autistic social traits (ASTs). At age 7, boys showed higher levels of ASTs than girls, however, by age 16 both boys and girls showed similar levels of ASTs. The researchers suggest an increase in ASTs levels for girls between the age of 10 and 16 could be linked to subtle pre-existing social difficulties becoming more apparent, or it could be that girls develop these traits at a later age than boys. (Login required) Read more.

Experiencing severe teenage anxiety and depression associated with premature death

A new paper, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, has examined whether experiencing anxiety and/or depression during adolescence is associated with premature death. The research team, led by Gemma Archer of UCL, used data from NSHD. When participants were age 13 and 15, their teachers were asked to rate symptoms of anxiety and depression. The researchers also looked at the age at which participants passed away up to age 68. They found that suffering from severe symptoms of anxiety and depression was linked to an increased rate of premature death over the 53-year follow-up period. Read more.

Ethnic differences in young people’s mental health

Data from three waves of Understanding Society have been used in a new study examining the relationship between neighbourhood characteristics and the mental health of young people. The research team, led by Kenisha Russell Jonsson, of the University of Essex, measured neighbourhood characteristics by a number of factors, including socioeconomic deprivation, crime levels, and parenting behaviour. They found that between the ages of 10 and 15, mental health is generally poorer for White British youths compared to other ethnicities, and those from deprived neighbourhoods were more likely to have poorer mental health. However, the team also noted that aspects of parenting behaviour seem to be more significantly linked to the mental health of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds than White British youths. Note: This article is behind a paywall. Read more.

Participation in longitudinal studies: what role do our genes play?

New research looking at how genetic factors may be related to continued participation in longitudinal studies has been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The paper, which used data collected from mothers and children taking part in ALSPAC, examined the associations between polygenic scores for a range of qualities that could be related to taking part in studies of this kind. Polygenic scores use DNA to predict traits in an individual. Factors the research team considered included body mass index, education level, and personality traits such as openness and agreeableness. Led by Dr Amy Taylor, of the University of Bristol, the study found evidence that polygenic scores for higher education, agreeableness and openness were linked to higher participation, while polygenic scores for higher BMI, neuroticism, or experiencing schizophrenia or depression were connected to lower participation. Read more.

Are BMI and inflammation linked to physical tiredness in later life?

A new study has investigated the link between BMI and inflammation on perceived physical tiredness, using data from NSHD. The research team, led by Dr Rachel Cooper, of UCL, looked at BMI and two inflammatory markers collected at age 60-64, as well as a score of participants’ physical tiredness at age 68. They found that there was a connection between fatigue, BMI and inflammatory measures. However, when looking at all three factors one inflammatory marker, the C-reactive protein was no longer associated. The study was published in Nature. Read more.

heavy drinkingChildren of heavy drinkers more likely to drink themselves

A study published in Addiction has used ALSPAC data to explore the relationship between parents’ drinking habits and young people’s alcohol consumption. The study focused on whether young people’s drinking might be accounted for by mediating factors, such as starting to drink from an early age (assessed at age 12), level of parental monitoring (at age 14), and being friends with those who engage in risky behaviours (at age 15 and a half). The researchers, led by Dr Liam Mahedy, of the University of Bristol, found evidence to suggest that young adults whose parents have moderate or high-risk alcohol consumption are more likely to drink compared to those with parents who drink less. This relationship appears to be accounted for, in part, to being introduced to alcohol at an earlier age and higher prevalence of being friends with those who engage in risky behaviours. Read more.

The relationship between family structure and childhood wellbeing

Research using the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) has investigated the relationship between family structure and children’s mental health and wellbeing at ages 3 and 5. The study, published in European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, was carried out by researchers based at University College London (UCL). The research looked at whether children who lived with both biological parents and only “full siblings” tended to have greater wellbeing and show less behavioural problems than children with a different family structure. Boys with single or step-parents were more likely to have behavioural issues, such as hyperactivity and antisocial behaviour, and girls with single parents were at greater risk of emotional problems. Children with step-siblings were no more likely to have emotional or behavioural problems than those with full siblings. Read more

Breastfeeding for 6-9 months is linked to lower odds of wheezing in children

Research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology has looked at the link between breastfeeding duration and wheezing in babies. The paper, by researchers based at University of Oxford and UCL, used data from MCS surveys at ages  9 months, 3, 5, 7 and 11 years. The researchers found that the association between breastfeeding and wheezing varied by age. For example, breastfeeding for 6-9 months was associated with lower odds of wheezing at age 9 months, and at 3 and 5 years, but less so at age 7 and 11 years. Read more

Are personality traits linked to asthma in adulthood?

A new paper published in Psychology & Health has looked at the role a number of different psychological and health factors in childhood play on the frequency of asthma in adulthood. The researchers, based at UCL, analysed data from the National Child Development Study at birth and at ages 7, 11, 33 and 50. The study found that being female, having had asthma in childhood, having mothers that smoked during pregnancy, and having a high BMI were all linked with more frequent reporting of asthma at age 50. Among the personality traits, greater levels of neuroticism and lower levels of conscientiousness were also significantly associated with asthma in adulthood. Read more.