Why Young People Need To Learn About Fertility Now More Than Ever

Age is not just a number.
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Last week, new figures from the World Health Organisation revealed that a staggering 1 in 6 people worldwide are affected by infertility. Although a particularly sobering figure, coupled with falling birth-rates across the globe, this reflects a reality that many of us in the fertility sector are sadly all too familiar with.

Infertility is a distressing medical condition, which can see many women and couples face the heartbreak of struggling to conceive a much-wanted child. Add to this the high costs of fertility treatments, we sadly can see many people across the globe finding themselves priced out of treatment.

To ensure those affected by infertility can access the treatment they need, it is vital that we improve the affordability of IVF treatment. However, to truly stop a looming infertility crisis in its tracks, we must educate young people about their fertility and the steps that can be taken to protect it, or receive early diagnosis and treatment if necessary.

Education equals empowerment

Educating young people on how their fertility is affected by both lifestyle choices and age can empower them with the understanding of their own fertility – and in turn could reduce reliance on IVF treatment, as these young people look to start a family in the future.

Young people must be taught how lifestyle factors such as smoking and being underweight or overweight can have a negative impact on their fertility, and additionally, how eating healthily and exercising regularly can have a positive impact on fertility. It is also important that young people consider any medical or genetic conditions that could negatively impact their fertility such as sexually transmitted diseases, underactive thyroid and family history of early menopause.

It is only when young people have such knowledge to hand, achieved through nuanced and structured education, that the root cause of many instances of infertility can be tackled. Introducing fertility education as part of the national curriculum, moving away from a singular focus of avoiding pregnancy, is necessary as a means of infertility prevention.

Age: not just a number

While there is some awareness of the fact that women’s fertility deteriorates with age, many are unaware of the full extent of this – with fertility deteriorating significantly after the age of 35 for most women.

Furthermore, the myth that fertility is a women’s issue – which is very far from the truth – means that many men are unaware of the impact of age on their fertility. Despite the stories we hear of male celebrities fathering children in their 60s, 70s or even 80s, the reality is that men’s sperm quality and quantity are affected by age, declining from their early 40s.

In fact, our own recent research into the impact of paternal age on pregnancy outcomes following IVF treatment showed that live birth rates drop significantly when a man is aged 40 or above. While a woman’s age is nonetheless an important factor, we must not ignore the impact of the male biological clock on a couple’s fertility.

By challenging these deeply entrenched fertility myths, particularly those around the male and female biological clocks, we can empower young people with the knowledge of how they can protect their fertility in future.

Should your career come first?

Of course, not every woman or couple is ready to have a child at a younger age, and some may want to prioritise their career before considering starting a family further down the line. This is completely understandable, and ultimately will be a personal decision for each individual.

But having all the facts and understanding their fertility is vital, so women and couples can make conscious and informed decisions if they want to have children in the future, before it’s too late.

For those who realise they may not be ready quite yet, but are conscious of their ticking biological clock, there are preventative options available such as egg freezing, which allows women to store younger, healthier eggs for use at a time in the future when they are ready for motherhood. However, a fertility consultation with a consultant is essential for providing women with the knowledge they require to make an informed and educated decision on this.

By educating both young people on the impact that age, medical conditions, and lifestyle factors can have on their fertility, not only can we help them make informed and educated choices about their lives, but we could even prevent many instances of infertility across the world. To achieve this and force a shift from fertility treatment to the prevention of infertility, we need to move the conversation from clinic rooms to classrooms.

Professor Geeta Nargund is Medical Director of CREATE Fertility, the UK’s leading Mild & Natural IVF specialists.