5 Key Findings from the Longest-Running Study on Human Development
Following 14,000 people since the 1940s, these cohort studies offer insights into parenting, education, health, and the impact of poverty.
The first British National Birth Cohort study was launched in 1946, in order to determine why the birthrate had been falling in the UK since the middle of the 19th century. Researchers ended up gathering data on nearly 14,000 babies. They included almost everyone born in March of that year in England, Wales, and Scotland. Researchers followed participants throughout the course of their lives and still are.
Today, the project is run by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and is known as the National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD). Data collection continues periodically. This is the longest running study on human development in the world, and the process has been repeated with subsequent generations. Other cohort studies took place with children born during 1958, 1970, and 2000-2001. The amount of data collected could fill terabytes of computer space. Of course, that’s the point. Such a large and long-term data set offers unique insights into human life.
The world’s longest running human development study impresses the importance of proper parenting. Credit: Getty Images.
The original longitudinal study has changed over time. When participants were between the ages of two and four, researchers looked at socioeconomic level and its effect on growth, development, and morbidity. Between ages 5-15, researchers included educational records and looked at their academic performance and attainment.
From 16-31, they continued gathering health data but included records of delinquency and educational outcomes in terms of employment, occupation, and income. Lastly, through middle adulthood, ages 32-53, investigators focused on physical and mental health. Original participants were examined a total of 23 times over the course of their lifetime.
Those in the first study turned 70 last year. Over the course of their lives, they’ve given blood, skin, and DNA samples. They’ve taken IQ tests and filled out lengthy questionnaires. As a result of their dedication and researchers’ efforts, life in the UK has improved dramatically. The original study in its initial phase laid bare inequities in the medical treatment among the poor in obstetrics and childhood diseases. This situation vastly improved afterwards.
One of the things the study was supposed to weigh in on was the Nature vs. Nurture debate. How much does being born into poverty for instance, really set a person back? Can we pick ourselves up by our bootstraps or merely mitigate the damage done?
This intergenerational study has touched the lives of almost everyone in Britain. Credit: Getty Images.
Here are 5 Key Findings:
Being born into poverty is extremely restrictive, in terms of how far up the ladder one can climb. Something that makes an enormous difference is parenting. Surprisingly, parental attitudes are highly influential to a child’s success, both in school and later on in life. These include whether or not parents believe in a just world and whether they think hard work actually pays off in the end. If the answer to both is yes, their children tend to excel.
Parents are the most important aspect when it comes to childhood cognitive development, education outcomes, and occupational success. Early experiences, particularly in the first few years, are crucial and in a way they set the tone for a child’s life. Throughout a child’s life, parents should remain engaged and interested in them and what they’re doing. The style and kind of parenting a child receives makes a huge difference. Those who talk often with their child, really listen to them, and who are warm and loving toward them, see their offspring perform better and achieve higher scholastic and occupational outcomes.
The study revealed how divided Britain is by class. In the late 1940s, poor mothers were more likely to experience stillbirth than those in other rich nations. Across the board even today, those born into poverty are worse off health-wise and earn less. They are also more likely to become obese, which comes with many subsequent health risks. One worrisome find is that over half of the UK’s millennial generation has been touched by poverty, the latest cohort study finds.
Just like with poverty, serious illness early on in life usually signals poorer health in adulthood. Poverty in and of itself however is a significant determinant in health outcomes. Those who came from a disadvantaged background tended to have a higher BMI in adulthood and often gained weight as they aged. They were also more prone to higher blood pressure, and at greater risk of serious diseases and a shorter lifespan, on average. Those from an underprivileged background didn’t have the same chances to become a healthy adult by age 36, the study found.
Disadvantaged children, specifically those who come from poor or working class backgrounds, are more likely to struggle in school. Poor three year-olds were found to be almost a full year behind better-off peers the same age. Proper parenting however, was shown to help mitigate the damage this might cause and improve a child’s chances of enjoying good health and success. Regular bedtimes resulted in higher grades and better behavior in school. Reading to children everyday was crucial, while children who read for their own pleasure by age 5 showed higher scholastic achievement later on. Parents who taught their children the letters and numbers, took them out to different places such as a museum or a visit with relatives, and gave them novel experiences, had children who were more likely to thrive later on.
Much of this seems like self-evident advice—nurture your children. However the resounding finding across all aspects of life is that economic disparity leaves a permanent scar on people's wellbeing and future prospects. It's a reminder for why closing wealth gaps is crucial to so many people, and should be every government's next moonshot. As economist Jeffrey Sachs says:
"I believe we absolutely should have such bold goals for our country. By 2030 let’s cut the poverty at least by half. By 2030 let’s cut the inequality in our country decisively so it’s like the northern European countries. Not like this god-awful inequality that we have in the United States... that is what’s degrading American society. Not just the technical issues. Not just the rising inequality but this spirit that you’re a winner or you’re a loser. And if you’re a loser get out of the way. That’s Ayn Rand talking. It’s ugly and we’ve had enough of it."
To learn more about this study, click below or watch the TED talk:
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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