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LONDON — Children born through the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF) appear to perform better in school than those born through natural conception. However, the new study by researchers at University College London also found that IVF children are more prone to anxiety and depression in their teenage years.

Scientists looked at the records of more than 280,000 kids born over five years and then tracked them as they grew up. They then studied the educational outcomes and mental health of those born as a result of medically assisted reproduction (MAR) — which includes procedures like IVF treatment, artificial insemination, and ovulation induction.

The study is thought to be the first to examine links between the methods of conception and mental health and well-being later in life. Previous studies have only looked at the early years of a child’s development.

The team found that adolescents conceived by MAR performed better in school, were less likely to drop out, and were at a lower risk of being unemployed or leaving home early compared to naturally conceived adolescents.

However, these differences all but disappeared when the team accounted for socioeconomic background — which shows how family background could explain it. Despite this, researchers found those conceived through MAR were at an increased risk of developing a mental disorder, particularly anxiety or depression.

Even siblings exhibit the same differences

The researchers used administrative records on 280,682 Finnish children born between 1995 and 2000 to reach their conclusions. They compared a range of educational and mental health outcomes among adolescents between 16 and 18 years-old who were conceived naturally (266,925) and through MAR (13,757).

Roughly 10 percent of MAR conceived adolescents and nine percent of naturally conceived adolescents received a mental health diagnosis between these ages. Although small, the findings based on several indicators of mental health were consistent, according to the study published in the European Journal of Population.

The study also found an increased risk when comparing adolescents conceived through MAR with their naturally conceived siblings. The team notes that this allowed researchers to control for family characteristics which go otherwise unobserved.

“What we’re seeing here is mostly reassuring; children conceived through medically assisted reproduction do better overall and are in fact not more disadvantaged in terms of mental health outcomes,” says study co-author Dr. Alice Goisis at UCL’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies in a university release.

“However, the fact that we observe an increased risk of mental health disorders once we account for family characteristics could be a cause for concern and merits further attention in future research.”

“We explicitly put a lot of focus on the social demographics of families who conceived through medically assisted reproduction – and our findings underscore the importance of integrating this perspective in studies of medically assisted reproduction and its consequences.”

Do IVF children receive more opportunities?

Study authors say that MAR children are more likely to come from higher income families who may provide their children with more resources that benefit their education. However, they also believe the stress of conceiving through IVF may cause the parents to develop mental health issues and this may also impact their child’s future health.

“Whilst we don’t have the data to explain why those born by medically assisted reproduction are at slightly higher risk of mental health disorders, we believe that this may be due to different mechanisms,” says lead author Dr. Hanna Remes from the University of Helsinki.

“The fact that MAR-conceived children tend to be the first-born – around 60 percent of the children in the study – explained some of the excess risks. It is also possible that because of the process they went through, parents of children conceived by IVF, for example, may have been exposed mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, which may, in turn, have put the children themselves at higher risk of having mental health problems.”

“Alternatively, they may be more apprehensive about their child’s welfare and more likely to make sure their child attends hospital or visits the doctor – and therefore these children may be more likely to get a diagnosis for certain conditions.”

Since the oldest child conceived by IVF is now 43 years-old, researchers say this area of study is still relatively new. Given the rise in the number of parents using MAR for various reasons, the team adds that it is vital to understand what the long-term consequences will be for these children.

South West News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.

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1 Comment

  1. Daryl says:

    Families that can afford IVF typically have more financial resources.