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Survey shows Australians' lack of fertility knowledge

10 November 2008
Appeared in BioNews 483

A study conducted by IVF Australia, the results of which were presented at the National Fertility Conference in Brisbane, has found that many Australian couples seeking IVF are largely ignorant of basic fertility facts.

The clinicians conducting the study tested the fertility knowledge of 60 women who were beginning their first IVF cycle. They found that one third were unaware that age impacted on fertility and 20 per cent were unsure when was the best time to have sex to maximise chances of pregnancy.

Professor Michael Chapman, Head of Women's and Children's Health at the University of New South Wales, Australia, commented that the poor knowledge revealed by the study was not helping Australia's increasing fertility problems, with one in six Australian couples currently experiencing infertility. He stated that, 'only 30 per cent knew that smoking, alcohol, caffeine and weight had an impact on their potential fertility - even though this is well-known in science circles - and of those, only 60 per cent had actually done anything to alter it'.

Professor Chapman blamed a 'not me' mentality, with people continuing to smoke and drink thinking that it would not impact on their fertility in much the same way as smokers believe they will not be the ones to get lung cancer. Professor Rob Norman, Director of the Research Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Adelaide, was not surprised at the levels of poor knowledge, commenting that, 'there seems to be a feeling out there that IVF will solve everything regardless of your lifestyle so you can do what you want'.

At the Brisbane conference a global review announced that only just over half of infertile couples seek professional help, with 44 per cent failing to seek medical care for problems conceiving. The figure was generated by averaging the results from 17 worldwide studies tracking global infertility trends. Professor John Collins, a Canadian obstetrician and gynaecologist, said that fertility problems affected couples in different ways, stating that 'in some cases, couples will not have wanted children anyway, while others may be too busy to consider starting a family, or consider that remaining childless was simply meant to be'.

Sandra Dill, Chief Executive of infertility support organisation Access, thought that many couples delayed getting help with fertility either because they were unsure where to go to obtain support, or because they were concerned about the ensuing emotional impact of fertility treatment. Additionally, Ms Dill commented that, 'unfortunately many couples simply assume they will achieve a pregnancy, even in their mid-to-late 30s when, for women in particular, fertility is declining rapidly'.

All commentators seemed to be concerned at the lack of knowledge around decreasing fertility, particularly the impact of lifestyle and age. Professor Chapman estimated that changes made to improve health, stop smoking and lose weight, in some cases, could improve chances of conception by up to 25 per cent. He commented that, 'there are certainly many people out there who are trying to get pregnant who don't know the basics, and that certainly would reduce the infertile population. If everyone had the knowledge there would be less infertile patients, I would agree with that'.

Infertility facts thin on the ground
The World Today |  21 October 2008
IVF survey shows Australians ignorant of fertility facts |  20 October 2008
Just half of infertile couples seek help
The Age |  21 October 2008
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