I was never a particularly fit or active child. It wasn’t for lack of encouragement from my parents, they had me try all sorts of different activities in the hopes I’d find something that I enjoyed, more it was that I just never felt as capable as other kids when it came to physical endeavours. This, of course, fed into my love of all things gaming and other sedentary activities. It wasn’t until over a decade ago that I started to take my health seriously, transforming myself from a chronically underweight individual (BMI 17) to the more athletic person that I am today. Mostly I did this for myself however I always had a view that I needed to do this for my future children and today brings word of new research that shows I was on the right track.
It’s common knowledge that your parent’s genetics play a major role in your development and health throughout your life. Indeed it’s to the point now where we can identify many genes that are precursors for many conditions and diseases, allowing us to engage in preventative treatment long before the condition manifests itself. It’s also well known that the mother’s health, as well as the conditions she exposes herself to during pregnancy, have long lasting effects on the child after birth. However many believe that beyond those two factors the health of the parents doesn’t really factor into the child’s long term health, I.E. that your health prior to conceiving doesn’t have much influence over the child’s long term wellbeing. The latest research out of our own University of Adelaide turns that assumption on its head showing that the parents’ health before conception plays a significant role in the child’s well being throughout their life.
Essentially it boils down to the accumulation of environmental factors in the egg and sperm of the parents which are then passed on to any progeny. The good news is for parents that are looking to conceive is that this mechanism works both ways and that improvements in your health before conception will then also lead to better outcomes for your child. Whilst the study says that the impacts can be seen even months before conception effecting real change in such a short time frame is highly unlikely and such changes should be undertaken much earlier. Unfortunately since I don’t have journal access anymore I can’t comment on just how effective such intervention is but the researchers comments don’t seem to indicate that it’s small.
For me this just reinforces the view that your health is far more important than a lot of people give it credit for. Whilst I always lament when people derive motivation from a wake up call like this I can’t deny that it’s an effective mechanism for most. Indeed it seems for many that their child’s health is a primary motivator for a lot of decisions, even if some of them are rather ill-informed. So if improving your own health could vastly improve your childs then I’m sure many parents would take the initiative and live better lives as a result. Hopefully that would then lead onto keeping those improved habits long after the children were born as whilst your genetic influence may have ceased you will still have huge impact on their habits, many of which they will carry with them for life.
Over the weekend the wife and I watched a documentary on the American education system called Waiting for Superman, here’s the trailer:
The documentary dives deep into the American public education system and the crux of it is that whilst there are some fantastic public schools there the problem is that space at those schools are limited. In order to resolve this situation the government has legislated the only thing that can be equally fair to all involved: public schools with more applicants than places must have a lottery to determine who gets in and who doesn’t. It’s eye opening, informative and heart wrenching all at the same time and definitely something that I’d recommend you watch.
The reason it hit home for me was because of the parallels that I could draw to my own education experience. My parents had had me on the waiting list for one of Canberra’s most respected private schools since the day I was born. I went to a public school for my initial education but I was always destined for a life of private education. However upon attending that school I was miserable, the few friends that did make the transition to the same school abandoning me and the heavily Anglican environment (with mandatory bible studies classes) only making things worse.
The straw that broke my parent’s back was when I made my case for transferring me to a public school where most of my friends had ended up. They couldn’t get through to me that the private school I was going to was the best place for me to be educated but one thing I said changed their minds: “You make your own education”. I still wonder if I actually uttered those exact words or just something along those lines (I don’t have a vivid memory of that incident, but my parents say it was so) but that was enough for them to let me transfer. If I’m honest the transfer didn’t make things any better, although I told myself differently at the time, but suffice to say I can count myself amongst the few who did make it to university after going to that school. Heck you might even say I’ve been successful.
Anecdotally then public education system in Australia seems to work just fine. The schools I went to had a rather rough reputation for not producing results (and indeed my university entrance score was dragged down a good 5 points due to my attendance there) but there were students that excelled in spite of it. However when watching Waiting for Superman I got this sinking feeling that in the USA they might not even have the chance to make their own education simply because the schools are set up for failure. Indeed my own success might have blinded me to the fact that the schools I went to were set up in such a way, leading me to believe there was no problem when there was one.
Cursory research however shows that, at least for Australia, this isn’t the case. Indeed the biggest indicators of child’s success at school and their pursuit of higher education is largely dependent on non-school factors. Following on from that idea it’s not just you who makes your education, but your entire social structure that supports it. Bringing that back to my experience shows then that it was my strong family support that lead for me to do well and my late found group of friends who led me to excel at university. In that respect I should feel incredibly lucky but in reality it’s got little to do with luck and more to do with a whole lot of dedicated effort on the parts of everyone who had been involved in my life during my education.
Still we should be thankful for the education system that Australia has, especially when you compared it to what it could be. I’m still a strong believer in those words I uttered well over a decade ago and whilst they might not be applicable everywhere in the world they are definitely applicable here.