Sunday, 1 January 2017

Are mice and rat studies showing the way?

Epigenetics, like brain science, sometimes runs away with itself:

"Epigenetic studies in mice and rats...  are showing that factors such as parental nutrition and care, social stress, and chemical exposures can influence gametogenesis, gestational development, and early growth, as well as create later-life health problems that may even be inherited by subsequent generations... Although it remains unclear whether similar epigenetic dynamics operate in humans, preventive prescriptions about how to avoid human epigenetic health risks and ‘optimize’ human reproductive health are proliferating in scientific reports, media, and public health outlets..."

"[They] often focus on parental behavior as the key to preventing illness in their descendants... For example, a popular parenting website recently posted an article entitled ‘Epigenetics, you, and your kids’ that cautioned against overeating during pregnancy on the basis of ‘research [that] has shown a mother’s diet can influence the structure of her unborn child’s epigenome."

"Two factors could make such prescriptions ripe for misinterpretation and exacerbate ethical concerns for these populations. First, individual and familial decision making about childbearing and child-rearing enjoys a ‘sphere of privacy’ in our society that is fervently protected against state influence, making directive messages about personal reproductive behavior ethically contentious, even for public health goals... [?] Second, to the extent that socioeconomic and sociopolitical forces, over which parents have little control, determine environmental exposures, diets, and stressors, shifting the expectations for prevention to parents unfairly targets the most socially vulnerable within these groups, creates the potential for social blame, and even exacerbates environmental, social, and intergenerational injustices."

DOI: 10.1016/j.tig.2014.08.001

Governments are more than willing to talk about intergenerational disadvantage (passed from parent to child)  but they are less inclined to talk about environmental, social and intergenerational injustices passed on, say, through policies like austerity.

Again, if epigenetics works in humans as it does in mice then insisting that families have their benefits sanctioned for the flimsiest of reasons, forcing children to depend on food banks and an inferior diet, could have genetic consequences for the third generation. In other words, it is not an intervention that is going to reduce intergenerational disadvantage at all.

Governments need to take care of the scientific theories they use to justify the dogma of early intervention. It could backfire.

See also

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