Contrary to media hype about genes for x, y and z scientists now know that people's mental and physical health is the result of a complicated interaction between their genes and their environment. A variation in a gene called 5-HTTLPR is associated with impulsivity, low self-control, binge drinking and substance abuse but researchers at the University of Georgia have shown how good parenting practices can override the influence of the gene. The researchers studied 641 families in rural Georgia. 291 were placed in a control group and received three mailings of health-related information. The rest took part in a programme called Strong African American Families (SAAF). In the SAAF programme parents and children took part in seven consecutive weeks of two-hour prevention sessions. The parents learnt about effective caregiving strategies including monitoring, emotional support, family communication and handling racial discrimination while children were taught how to set and attain positive goals, deal with peer pressure and stress and avoid risky activities. The children with the 'risky' gene were no more likely than the other children to drink, smoke cannabis or have under-age sex. However, the children in the control group with the risky gene were twice as likely to engage in risky behaviour. Much of the protective influence of the SAAF programme came about because of the way it improved parenting practices.
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