Infertility on the rise in Europe
Dr. Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust27 June 2005
BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Copenhagen: A British scientist has issued a warning about fertility, saying that the way modern Europeans live their lives may have devastating effects on their ability to reproduce without assistance. Professor Bill Ledger, from the University of Sheffield, said that since more and more people are tending to postpone having children to a later age, more and more couples are likely to have trouble conceiving.
Although he stated that there was no recorded incidence of this, he estimated that the current level of infertility faced by couples is about one in seven. However, when pushed to estimate how bad this phenomenon might become in the future, he said that as many as one in three couples might face fertility problems. Other reasons for the decline in fertility levels, he suggested, might include the increased prevalence of obesity and sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia, and also a decline in quality and quantity of male sperm.
One solution that Professor Ledger proposed was to give young women career breaks, so that they were able - in a financial sense - to have their first child at a younger age. He pointed to other countries, notably Scandinavia, which have instituted policies encouraging women to try and have children earlier, and also France, which has introduced a form of tax relief so that women can take career breaks to have children. But in many other countries, he said, women are dominated by inflexible working hours and a desire to progress up the career ladder, both for financial and aspirational reasons, which means that many women do not have children until they are past their optimal period of fertility.
While he acknowledged that people might 'say it is condescending to say this', he added 'it is not condescending, it is biology'. 'Women are simply not as fertile after 35', he said, concluding that 'it's easier and more straightforward to do whatever you can to encourage women to have children naturally, rather than waiting to the point at which IVF may be needed'. Responding to the points made by Professor Ledger, Dr Allan Pacey, spokesperson for the British Fertility Society, said that 'Nature designed women to have children in probably their late teens and early twenties, and many women are now waiting until they are over 35'. He agreed that 'the message has to be driven home that the sooner you do it, the more likely it is you will be able to conceive without medical assistance', adding that NHS funding was already stretched and would be unlikely to be able to cope with a big increase in demand for fertility treatments.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.