Description: Read these articles describing and discussing the findings of a recent study on the epigenesist of childhood obesity and linking it to maternal and grand-maternal activity patterns (or the lack thereof) during their adolescences.
Source: The Globe and Mail
Date: November 30, 2014
Links: Lead article – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/studying-obesity-through-maternal-health-before-and-during-pregnancy/article21834086/
Comment on Article- http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/flipping-a-non-motherly-gesture-at-sexist-science/article21833778/
We often bemoan the historical fact that early psychological theories of various sorts involved a nasty amount of “mother blaming”. Ice-box mothers who were emotionally unresponsive to their infants were said to causally contribute to the development of autism and Schizophrenigenic mothers were said to contribute to the development of schizophrenia in their offspring by behaving in emotionally and behaviourally contradictory ways towards them. Given how odd and frankly sexist these Freudian era hypotheses sound today one would think that current researchers would be reticent to invoke any hypotheses that look like mother blaming. A new theory in the general area of nature/nurture effects on outcomes is called epigenisis and it involves looking at the way certain aspects of the prenatal environment such as maternal nutrition and activity levels can affect developing fetuses by turning off or turning on certain genes. While no one is opposed to this type of research there are those who are pointing out that the media is quick to revert to versions of mother blaming and that less work has been done (and less reporting has been done on work that HAS been undertaken) on the roles that fathers play in epigenisis.
Questions for Discussion:
- What sorts of things do researchers studying epigenisis look at?
- Are there gaps between the claims being made by researchers in their studies and how those studies are reported in the media or picked up by the general public?
- What sorts of critical questions might we ask about stories like this that would make it more likely that the results of such studies will not be over stated?
References (Read Further):
Archer, Edward (2014) The Childhood Obesity Epidemic as a Result of Nongenetic Evolution: The Maternal Resources Hypothesis, http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196%2814%2900740-X/abstract
Richardson, Sarah S, Cynthia R Daniels, Matthew W Gillman, Janet Golden, Rebecca Kukla, Christopher Kuzawa, and Janet Rich-Edwards. “Don’t Blame the Mothers” Nature 512 (2014): 131-132. http://www.nature.com/news/society-don-t-blame-the-mothers-1.15693?WT.ec_id=NATURE-20140814