Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to mess up your kid. Correlation or causation?

(Reuters) - Children whose mothers smoked while pregnant were more likely to end up on medications such as antidepressants, stimulants and drugs for addiction, according to a study from Finland that hints at smoking's affect on a baby's developing brain.

While the findings don't prove that cigarette smoking during pregnancy causes changes in children's brains or behavior, they offer one more piece of evidence that should encourage women not to smoke while pregnant, the researchers wrote in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

One in 11 children was prescribed a psychiatric medication at some point during that period, including anti-anxiety drugs, antipsychotics, antidepressants, stimulants and drugs for addiction.

Of children and teens whose mothers didn't smoke during pregnancy, 8 percent were on at least one of those drugs during the study period. That compared to 11 percent of those whose mothers smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes per day, and close to 14 percent whose mothers had lit up more than 10 times a day.

This is pretty obvious, the only surprise is that it wasn't higher.

But it raises an interesting question for me. Does it actually prove that smoking while pregnant is the cause of the higher rate of medication?

Not really. I'm passionately anti-smoking and certainly believe that smoking while pregnant is a repugnant thing to do. But I wonder how much of this issue is actually correlative rather than causative.

Here's the thing: if you are the kind of person who smokes while pregnant, you are more likely than average to be a stupid, shitty parent. If you smoke more than 10 times a day while pregnant, you are even more likely to be so. Someone who is has a poor grasp of decent parenting, whether they smoke or not, is far more likely to raise a child with depression, anxiety and addiction problems.

I certainly think smoking while pregnant is physically damaging to the unborn child. But studies like this don't necessarily indicate it. It could just be that smoking is not the cause of dysfunction, but rather a reflection of it. So if you are smoking while you are pregnant, the chances are definitely higher that you will raise a problem child, but it may well be you, rather than the ciggies that did it.

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