Boy-crazy and pregnant

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Healthy babies are apparently not enough according to a new study promoting early diet habits to ensure the likelihood of a boy and the rise in the number of well-to-do Indians aborting female fetuses.

On March 8, in the early edition online of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers concluded that a woman's diet at time of conception could play an integral role in the gender of the child.

The study findings concluded that high caloric diets with a good amount of breakfast cereals led to male babies while low caloric intake produced more girls.

The researchers noted, "The reason why a maternal high fat, low carbohydrate diet favours survival of sons and a maternal low fat, high carbohydrate diet results in more daughters continues to elude us."

However "the more women ate the more likely she was to have a boy. Women who had sons were also more likely to have eaten a higher quantity and wider range of nutrients including potassium, calcium and vitamins C, E and B12."

The study's lead researcher, Fiona Mathews, PhD, mammalian biologist at the University of Exeter's School of Biosciences, said: "this research may help to explain why in developed countries, where many young women choose to have low calorie diets, the proportion of boys born is falling. Our findings are particularly interesting given the recent debates within the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Committee about whether to regulate ‘gender' clinics that allow parents to select offspring sex, by manipulating sperm, for non-medical reasons. Here we have evidence of a ‘natural' mechanism that means that women appear to be already controlling the sex of their offspring by their diet."

It isn't just developed countries that are looking to breed more males. On March 8, the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) reported that Indians who can afford ultrasounds are consumed with gender selection: selecting to keep their baby boys over the girls.

In India, it is illegal for a doctor to tell parents the gender of their unborn child or to abort based on gender, however there been almost no action to stop it. "It is carried out by every doctor with almost no exception," said Puneet Bedi, an obstetrician and advocate against female feticide. "Everyone wants boys - not just the rich."

Matthews' research shows that gender selection can be pre-determined by dietary intake; perhaps this could stop the female feticide in India and many other countries.

Where are the women to marry?

Prizing male offspring is leading to another long-term problem that is equalizing the nation.

Babulal Yadav, a 50-year-old farmer, on finding a new wife said to CSM, "I don't mind what caste she is, what religion, or what she looks like anymore. I just want a nice girl to look after me and give me a son."

Indians may have to start looking outside of India to find wives, the West would be a good option given the "proportion of boys born is falling." That is if women in developed countries do not get crazy with high-caloric diets and breakfast cereal.

Indian women are increasingly more selective and in high demand, this has caused men to "import women from other states, and often religions, to marry."

Baljeet Singh, a van driver, was searching for a wife for over 11 years and before marrying a Muslim girl, considered to be a Bangladeshi illegal immigrant, has learned he is not alone: there are many single Indian men in search of brides. Many have turned to him for advice asking, "how can I get one?" referring to his young bride.

Full study, "Contrasting effects of different maternal diets on sexually dimorphic gene expression in the murine placenta": http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/02/17/1000440107.full.pdf+html

Gender selection: "In India, abortion of girls on the rise": http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2010/0308/Gender-selection-In-India-abortion-of-girls-on-the-rise

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