Children bring long life?


Israeli study follows 45,000 mothers over 37-year period. Results: Mothers with one child or more than five children die faster than those who have average number of children. Why? Question remains unanswered
Sarit Rosenblum,

Many couples come to the crossroads where they need to decide, small family or large one? Now it seems that from certain perspectives, the right path to follow is the one that most people choose – the middle path.

The study took an extremely long time, one of the longest witnessed in medical literature in the field. A team of researchers from the Hebrew University’s School for Public Health in Jerusalem and the Hadassah Ein-Karem Medical Center’s Obstetrics and Gynecology department, examined data collected over 37 years from 45,000 mothers who gave birth to 125,000 babies in the capital.

The final results were amazing: Women who had one child and in contrast, women who had five children or more – were at a significantly higher risk of dying young from various diseases.

Professor Uri Elchalal the director of Hadassah Ein-karem’s clinic for high risk pregnancies, who conducted the study together with Professor Yechiel Friedlander, of the epidemiology unit, offers a possible explanation.

“During pregnancies, the woman’s body goes through extreme physiological changes that take certain resources from the mother and give them to the fetus. This leads to major changes in women’s’ metabolism, and when those parameters accumulate they affect disease and mortality later on in life.”

From the first phases of the study it became clear that as the number of children rose, so did the mortality rates among the mothers. Among those who had one child, mortality rates from various reasons stood at 3.7%, among women with two to four children – 5.7%, among women with five to nine children 13.5% and among women with 10 children or more – 15.4%.

A similar trend was seen in the case of specific mortality reasons, like cancer, diabetes or heart disease. When researchers prepared a ‘survival curve’ based on the data, it was revealed that the odds of survival for women with more than four children are significantly lower than that of women with four children or less.

After researchers neutralized factors that could affect the results – socio-economic factors and the mothers’ personal health issues, the connection was weakened, but it remained pronounced.

The study also found that mothers with just one child also die at an earlier age. “This finding is one that as yet, we can’t explain,” admits Dr. Uri Dior an intern at Hadassah Ein-Karem’s Obstetrics and Gynecology department.

“One of the hypotheses is that the initial physical condition of a woman with one child is not as good as that of the other women. Another is derived from theories that deliberate over the support children give parents when the parents can no longer care for themselves, but other theories claim the exact opposite.”


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