Could Greater Victoria experience a baby boom in nine months following this recent run of winter weather and power outages? Don’t count on it. (Black Press File)

Will winter weather and power outages lead to a Vancouver Island baby boom?

Anecdotal evidence suggests yes, research says no

First things first. People do not necessarily get busier – if you get the drift – when extreme events like winter storms keep them inside and bring down the lights.

Nine months after an ice storm had caused catastrophic damage across Quebec and other parts of North America in early 1998, demographers scoffed at the notion that this extreme weather event had any significant bearing on live birth rates in the province.

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After the 1998 storm, a demographer with Quebec’s statistics bureau told local media that birth rates increasing after these types of events are a myth.

But at least one hospital in the Montreal area recorded an uptick in births in October (nine months after the storm), in what was usually a slow month for births.

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Similar stories have also emerged from the Greater Toronto Area, where hospitals reported a baby bump in September 2014 — nine months after an ice storm had hit that city.

Notwithstanding this anecdotal evidence, extreme weather events such as Quebec’s ice storm of 1998 can leave behind a permanent genetic legacy among the children born at the time.

Researchers at Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University found that the level of objective hardships experienced by pregnant women at the time left behind a distinct imprint on their genes.

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While the health impact on these children is less clear, according to the study, changes in genes regulating immunity and sugar metabolism may put them at a greater risk to develop asthma, diabetes or obesity.

These findings are among a treasure trove of findings that the Quebec ice storm of 1998 has yielded. Researchers working on Project Ice Storm started to study the effects of stress on pregnant women, their pregnancies, and their unborn children soon after the January 1998 had plunged more than 3 million Quebecers into darkness for as long as 45 days, according to McGill.

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Overall, the team has been following a group of about 150 families, in which the mother was pregnant during the ice storm or became pregnant shortly after, to observe the immediate effects of different levels and types of stress on unborn children.


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