“We believe this a unique opportunity to answer important questions on the potential connection between common complications during pregnancy, and the neurological and educational development of children. ADHD is now one of the most common mental health problems in schoolchildren, with 5-10% of children combating symptoms of this problem. Finding risk factors is obviously a primary concern,” says Helga Zoëga, Associate Professor of Public Health Science. She is currently studying whether there is a connection between hypertension and diabetes in pregnant mothers, and the neurological and educational development of children, emphasizing Attention Deficiency and Hyperactivity Disorder; or ADHD as it is commonly known.
Zoëga completed her PhD from the University of Iceland in 2011. In her doctoral study, she researched the use of ADHD medication in the Nordic countries and the effects of drug treatment on educational results. “During my doctoral studies I realised that the causes of ADHD where mostly unknown, and that even less was known about environmental impacts in the womb on the neurological development of children. I wanted to exploit the unique data collections available in Iceland to advance this field. We have access to information on all pregnancies and births in the country, children’s educational results, and medication in ADHD treatment. We can track individuals from the womb into their teens,” Zoëga explains.
In the currently ongoing study, Zoëga examines data connected with all children born in the years 1984-2004, around 65,000 children in total. “Research like this involves spending a lot of time on preparing data, cyphering and connecting databases. This work is ongoing in good collaboration with the Directorate of Health and the Education Research Institute (Námsmatsstofnun). When the connections are ready the researchers finally get data, totally untraceable to individuals, and work on getting results will start immediately,” says Zoëga who expects the first conclusions in 2014.
The study is important because hypertension and diabetes during pregnancy have become more common in the last few years in line with expecting mothers’ becoming older and heavier, as Zoëga points out. “It has been estimated that 6-8% of women now have symptoms of hypertension and diabetes during pregnancy. This development means that people should be informed on what this can mean for children in the short and long term. It has already been shown that both hypertension and diabetes can increase the likelihood of problems in birth, but less is known about the long term impact on children’s development,” says Zoëga.