The new ‘Seven Ages of Humanity’ MRC Annual Review highlights work by SPHSU researchers.
posted on: Nov 12, 2010
Work by three researchers at the SPHSU was selected for inclusion in the new ‘Seven Ages of Humanity’ MRC annual report. The report tracks the contribution of MRC scientists in explaining health over the lifespan - from birth throughout childhood, the teenage years, mid and late adulthood. Work from two researchers focused on the teenage years. Katie Buston’s work examines how targeting young male offenders could help reduce sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and Robert Young’s research explores how young peoples ‘good and bad’ values might inhibit or promote later substance use. In the middle years of life David Batty’s research suggests low IQ in middle age is a strong predictor of developing cardiovascular disease. The full ‘Seven Ages of Humanity’ report in available online.
Testing in youth prisons could cut STIs
MRC research suggests that introduction of routine screening programmes for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in young offenders’ institutions could reduce the prevalence of STIs in the wider community (see profile). Dr Katie Buston and colleagues from the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow interviewed 40 young offenders (aged 16 to 20) in Scotland to better understand their STI testing behaviour and attitudes. Of the 40 individuals, 24 had been tested, and of these 16 had been tested within the young offenders’ institution, where the screening was convenient and readily available. Dr Buston explained: “Targeting male young offenders whilst they are inside may provide a rare opportunity to intervene in the lives of vulnerable young men. Most of those interviewed reported having had more than five sexual partners, with unprotected sex commonplace, yet only a handful of the men had undergone regular testing. A standard opt-out screening programme would enable the diagnosis and treatment of STIs amongst this group, as well as serving as an opportunity for sexual health promotion and perhaps contact tracing. This could reduce the prevalence of STIs in the community, in the medium- and longer-term, as many of those in young offenders’ institutions are released back into society in a matter of months rather than years.”
‘Good’ values don’t stop drug taking
Many people think that teaching traditional values at school protects teenagers against future smoking, alcohol abuse and drug use. However, research funded by the MRC suggests that trying to influence young people’s values at school is unlikely to be effective. The study, which was carried out by lead researcher Robert Young and Professor Patrick West at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow, involved over 2,000 school children, who were interviewed at age 15 and again at around age 18. Predictably, rebellious teenagers were more likely to be taking drugs. But teenagers who believed in traditional roles for men and women were also more likely to be taking drugs, which suggests that ‘macho’ stereotypes can lead to greater substance use. Teenagers who believed in hard work were more likely to be smokers, while individualists were less likely to smoke. However, none of the values that young people held at 15 was likely to predict whether or not they would be smoking, getting drunk or taking drugs at eighteen – at least for those who were not doing so already. “Our findings directly challenge the proposition that authoritarian or traditional values are necessarily better for health than liberal or individualist ideals,” concluded Dr Young.
Low IQ link with cardiovascular disease
Having a low IQ score is one of the strongest predictors of cardiovascular disease, second only to smoking, according to MRC research. Scientists at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow and the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology in Edinburgh analysed data collected in 1987 from 1,145 men and women aged around 55 who were followed for 20 years. The participants were part of the West of Scotland Twenty-07 Study, a population study designed to investigate the influence of social factors on health. Data were collected for height, weight, blood pressure, smoking habits, physical activity, education and occupation, and general intelligence (IQ). Statistical assessment of the data showed that smoking was the strongest predictor of developing cardiovascular disease, followed by low IQ. Dr David Batty, who led the research, commented: “Our results suggest that intelligence might be linked with more healthy behaviour, such as taking exercise or abstaining from smoking. It’s also possible that environmental insults accumulated through life, such as illness or poor nutrition, take their toll on IQ. It may be worthwhile for health promotion campaigns to be planned with consideration of individual cognition levels.” Professor Ian Deary, psychologist in the team, added: “We also cannot rule out at this stage the possibility that intelligence and cardiovascular disease share some genetic determinants.”