Autism in children linked to antidepressants in pregnancy, study suggests

Researchers find added risk for pregnant mums on mood-enhancing medications – but it’s small. In other studies: parents in Australia influence their kids’ drinking, and staying positive about ageing helps

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 3:39pm

Children exposed to antidepressants during pregnancy are more likely to suffer autism, but the added risk is very small and may not, in fact, stem from the drugs, according to researchers.

The connection between medications used to treat depression and autism in children has shown up in earlier research, but investigators have been unsure whether the link is down to pre-existing illness, the antidepressants, or some other mix of factors.

Seeking a clearer picture, scientists led by Dr Dheeraj Rai at the University of Bristol in western England examined medical records for a quarter of a million individuals aged four to 17 living in Sweden from 2001 to 2011. Nearly 5,400 of them were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

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For the purposes of the study, published in medical journal The BMJ, mothers were divided into three groups. They comprised those who did not take any antidepressants and showed no signs of mental illness; those who took antidepressants during pregnancy; and mothers with psychiatric disorders who did not take such drugs while pregnant.

Just over four per cent of the children exposed to mood-enhancing medications were diagnosed with autism, while just under three per cent of children not exposed to antidepressants – and whose mothers had a history of psychiatric troubles – were found to be on the spectrum.

The new investigation was not designed to investigate the cause for any link between antidepressants and the disorder. But even if a cause one day emerges, “the absolute risk of autism was small, so these results should not be considered alarming”, the authors said in a statement. AFP

Study finds Australian parents have more influence on kids’ drinking than they realise

Fewer Australian teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Aussie students, based on the findings of a recent study.

More than 2,800 Australian students aged between 12 and 17 took part in a survey of drinking behaviour, conducted by researchers from the University of Adelaide’s School of Psychology, and the Population Health group at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.

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The results of the study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, provide a snapshot of the prevalence of alcohol consumption among students, and the factors that most influence their drinking behaviour. One of the major messages from the study is that parents have more influence on their teenagers’ decisions regarding alcohol than they probably realise.

“Parental behaviour and attitudes towards alcohol really do make a difference, and can help prevent children from drinking at an early age,” says lead author Jacqueline Bowden.

Staying positive about ageing has its benefits, researchers say

A study of older adults finds an individual’s awareness of ageing is not as static as previously thought, and that day-to-day experiences and one’s attitude towards ageing can affect an individual’s awareness of age-related change (AARC) – and how that awareness affects one’s mood.

“People tend to have an overall attitude towards ageing, good or bad, but we wanted to know whether their awareness of their own ageing – or AARC – fluctuated over time in response to their everyday experiences,” says Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper on the study.

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For the study, researchers enrolled 116 participants between the ages of 60 and 90. Each participant took a survey to establish baseline attitudes towards ageing. For the following eight days, participants kept a log of daily stressors (such as having an argument), completed a daily evaluation of age-related experiences (such as “I am becoming wiser” or “I am more slow in my thinking”), and reported on their mood.

“We found that people’s AARC, as reflected in their daily evaluations, varied significantly from day to day,” says Jennifer Bellingtier, a recent PhD graduate from NC State and co-author of the paper. “We also found that people whose baseline attitudes towards ageing were positive also tended to report more positive affect, or better moods.”

Neupert added: “People with positive attitudes towards ageing were also less likely to report ‘losses’, or negative experiences, in their daily ageing evaluations.”