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The Age When Men Make the Healthiest Babies

Photograph by Twenty20

It's a little-known fact *laughs* that men mature slower than women, but did you know that their age at the time of conception—should you choose to procreate—can directly affect certain developmental behaviors of your unborn child?

Take a deep breath. There is no need to panic (yet) as we are only talking about age here, not maturity level. #kiddingnotkidding

A study published in the May 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests that children born to fathers under 25 and over 51 years of age differed in how they acquired social skills.

As part of their investigation, Magdalena Janecka, PhD, a fellow at the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai, and her co-authors used a UK-based sample of over 15,000 twins (followed between the ages of 4 and 16) and looked for differences in their developmental patterns of social skills. The comparison included other behaviors, such as conduct and peer problems, hyperactivity and emotionality. They also held a separate investigation to determine whether the effects of paternal age on development were more likely attributable to genetic or environmental factors.

Analysis, based on effects of the social domain (unrelated to maternal age), showed that children born to very young and older fathers displayed increased prosocial behaviors in early development, yet those with middle-aged fathers lagged behind by the time they reached adolescence.

Further testing suggested that effects of developmental behavior were mostly influenced by genetic factors (as opposed to environmental) and appeared to grow more substantial as paternal age increased.

"Our results reveal several important aspects of how paternal age at conception may affect offspring," said Dr. Janecka. "We observed those effects in the general population, which suggests children born to very young or older fathers may find social situations more challenging, even if they do not meet the diagnostic criteria for autism. Further, increased importance of genetic factors observed in the offspring of older, but not very young fathers, suggests that there could be different mechanisms behind the effects at these two extremes of paternal age. Although the resulting behavioral profiles in their offspring were similar, the causes could be vastly different."

Dr. Janecka went on to say, "What was interesting is that the development of those skills was altered in the offspring of both older as well as very young fathers. In extreme cases, these effects may contribute to clinical disorders. Our study, however, suggests that they could also be much more subtle."

Researchers plan to supplement these findings with future biological exchanges. They believe such data will offer insight into the ways paternal age can affect a child's risk of autism and schizophrenia.

In other words, age is a lot like size when it comes down to it. And we all know how much that matters.

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