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Studies show

The XX Files


It nearly drove me over the edge, but a new study proves I was right. Attachment parenting is, in fact, good for babies. For the uninitiated, attachment parenting is an approach to infant care developed by a sadist who, playing on new-mothers' fears, prescribed never putting the baby down, not even to take a dump. The new study measured how long babies cry and found that those who are held for 16 hours a day tend to cry less overall than those who are left to comfort themselves. What the study doesn't say is how long the mothers cried.

Even when I was bleary-eyed and on my knees begging my husband to either kill or commit me, I didn't put the damn baby down. Why? Because an earlier study had shown that babies who are held a lot in their first year "bond" with their mothers and develop better immune systems and go on to become NASCAR heroes with their pictures on cereal boxes or something like that.

I am a slave to studies. Occasionally I'll make a decision on my own, like when the second child came along and I tossed him into his crib with a ham sandwich and a TV set and told him I'd come back when he could talk. But typically, I am the one anxiously clearing the pantry shelves of fats one day and filling them with Snackwells only to learn it was the refined flour that was killing me in the first place. Back came the fats, but not the trans fats. Out went the pretzels and in came the wonder foods --- oatmeal, blueberries, and pomegranates.

And why not follow the latest scientific findings? We are lucky to have all this data at our fingertips. Let's use it. Not everyone sees it my way, however. Recently, when I was explaining how important it is to eat dinner together --- lower juvenile delinquency and drug use, higher grades, etc. --- my kids fought back.

"Studies show, studies show," my 9-year-old said recently in exasperation.

"Why don't you take a chance," the snarky teen, the one I once held for 24 hours a day, added, "and actually learn something on your own?"

I'm not the only one being held hostage by scientific studies. For most Americans, it started with cholesterol in the '70s. Early studies correlated high cholesterol with clogged arteries and heart attacks, and we haven't been the same since. My father, in fact, had had his first heart attack in his mid-20s, so when a doctor told him to watch his diet, he signed right on.

Suddenly all food was suspect. My childhood was a roller-coaster ride of embracing and then rejecting the same foods --- margarine, eggs, pasta --- as new studies contradicted old ones, showing how healthy or, alternately, unhealthy these things were. And we weren't the only ones watching our diets. I remember the ads run by the panicking meat and milk industries that feared their products would be made obsolete.

Fast forward to today. We're all in thrall of each new scientific-sounding health report, a trend not lost on the drug companies. In fact, there's even --- surprise surprise --- a new study that addresses this phenomenon. A recent report shows that pharmaceutical companies are systematically inventing diseases in order to sell more pills. Playing on our desire to first medicalize and then improve our lives, these companies exaggerate rare or mild diseases or characteristics for profit. For example, according to the report, a charley horse is now "restless leg syndrome," and ordinary shyness is "social anxiety disorder." And yup, you can buy medicine for both.

I'm a little behind in my reading. I need to integrate a whole pile of new studies into my family's life. Caffeine makes you smarter and a better listener, I just learned, so from now on I'll make my kids chug a Red Bull right before the school bus comes. I've temporarily lost my battle against video games because the children found a study that showed that game-playing surgeons have better outcomes in operations. I need to find an even newer study that shows that video games cause brain death or small penises.

For now, I'm sticking with screaming and threatening. And how lovely for me that a recent study shows that people perform better in an atmosphere of fear. When it's chore time, I'm breaking out the whip. I'm sure my brother will love that. He once compared my parenting style to something you'd find in a "19th-century British orphanage." Fine, I used to think, he can let his urchins run wild in the streets for all I care. But when he learns --- as I just did --- that a recent study shows that strict parenting can lead to obese children, I'll never hear the end of it.

There are lots of stupid studies, like the one showing that macho men who handle lingerie or see sexy pictures lose their bargaining skills. Duh. My husband's favorite study has to be the one that found that ill people feel worse when their sympathetic spouse walks into the room. If the spouse is not sympathetic, there is no increase in pain experienced by the sick one. If a little bit of neglect is a good thing, my husband figures, a lot is even better.

For now I'll just keep smiling; even fake smiles can improve your mood, you know. If that's not enough, I'll zap that forehead crease --- the one that wrinkles when you frown --- with Botox. It'll make me happier. I have the report to prove it.