Lesezeit 16 Min
Wissen

The Douglas Babies

Soon after the second world war, a doctor began tracking the lives of over 5,000 British children. The results changed public policy. Today, those girls and boys are 70 years old – and the most studied people in the world.

ANDREW FOX / DER SPIEGEL
von
Laura Höflinger
Lesezeit 16 Min
Wissen

Cover picture

Study participant Ashton: "This study has disproven once and for all the notion that intelligence depends on your origins"

Lesen Sie hier die deutsche Version: Die Douglas-Babys

They were there for the birth of Margaret and Ken, and now they are waiting for them to die. Since their birth, doctors have been tracking their lives. Physicians made note of the day the two took their first steps – and of the day when their steps began to become unsteady. But Margaret and Ken aren’t troubled by the thought that their lives are slowly drawing to a close. Rather, it fills them with pride. It will mark the end of what began in 1946.

Margaret Allan and Ken Ashton were born during a cold week in spring – he on March 3 in Manchester, she four days later, 300km (185 miles) to the north, in a birth centre in Glasgow. A screaming bundle of joy weighing over 3.5kg (8 pounds).

Eight weeks after their delivery, nurses and midwives knocked on their doors. They told the mothers that all children born between March 3 and 9 were to be part of an enormous study. They went on to explain that the new parents had an opportunity to change the way children were born in Britain. They asked how much the child weighed and how large it was. They counted the number of rooms in the parents’ homes and made a note of how much the families earned.

Afterwards, they examined 5,362 of the original 13,687 children once every three years on average, including their IQ, their weight and their emotional state. Over the next 70 years, the lives of the Douglas babies – named after James Douglas, the physician who launched the study – would come to inspire more than 700 scientific articles and nearly a dozen books. They were to transform policies in Britain and abroad.

For instance, as London was choking in smog, the Douglas babies proved that air pollution caused asthma and…

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Nr. 24/2016