MRC Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health
Research quick links
- Congenital disorders
- Childhood origins of adult disease
- Electronic health records
- Genetic epidemiology
- Growth & development
- Health inequalities
- Life course research
- Obesity, nutrition & physical activity
- Research for policy & practice
- Screening & surveillance
- Statistical methods
- Vision & eyes
How our research is having an impact
Professor Tim Cole helped to develop the British 1990 growth charts,
as well as those used by other countries and WHO.
A number of our
researchers were involved in updating the 2009 UK-WHO growth charts,
used by GPs, paediatricians and parents to assess the growth of infants
Growth and development
A great deal of the work that we do at the centre considers how children grow and develop both mentally and physically. This includes studying the effects of infections and inherited disorders on growth and development, as well as social and environmental factors such as family structure or the amounts of physical activity that children do.
Our research in this area is closely linked with our research into obesity and physical activity and many of our studies analyse data collected through large cohort studies, to try to understand how our growth as children can affect our health as adults. We also have a programme of research that investigates the development of visual function in children.
The tools to describe growth and development
Because children grow and develop, single measurements taken on them vary depending on their age, and data gathered on them over a period of time are affected by changes due to growth and development. These age and time effects must be taken into consideration when analysing child data.
To do this, age-related norms are necessary, and where they do not exist they must first be established. Work in the centre on visual function, lung function and obesity, as well as in other areas require these age-related references. Separate methods are needed for continuous data and for ordinal data.
The next step is transforming these statistical methods into tools - such as growth charts - that can be used by healthcare professionals or researchers in other fields to describe growth and development of various biological functions as well as body size.
Current and recent research
- Growth charts - LMS method
- Analysing growth curves - SITAR method
- Growth phenotypes (birth weight and gestational age): a genome-wide association
- Family and environmental influences
- Lung function
- Lead exposure
- Visual function
Professor Tim Cole developed the LMS method for constructing age-related reference ranges such as growth charts. The LMS method was used to develop the British 1990 growth reference, which was the official UK growth reference from 1996 to 2009.
The LMS method is now finding wider application, for example in the analysis of lung function in children and adults, or in levels and patterns of immunological and haematological markers in uninfected children of HIV infected mothers.
Principal investigator: Tim Cole
Growth charts can be used to identify problems with growth and development in children, but by analysing a child's growth curve it may be possible to predict their risk of disease later in life, for example heart disease, stroke or type 2 diabetes. To investigate links between growth and disease risks it is necessary to summarise the shape of each individual's growth curve in a simple way, so that its shape can be related to their health or lifestyle.
Professor Tim Cole has developed the SITAR method of growth curve analysis to do just this - it summarises each individual growth curve in just three numbers, reflecting respectively their size (i.e. tall or short, heavy or light, as compared to others), their growth tempo (i.e. whether they are relatively mature or delayed in their timing of growth, e.g. age of menarche in girls), and velocity (how fast they are growing compared to others, e.g. in puberty).
Principal investigator: Tim Cole
Dr Elina Hyppönen and Professor Chris Power are involved in ongoing research being undertaken as part of a consortium, carrying out genome-wide association analyses in the 1958 Birth Cohort samples on several growth phenotypes including birth weight and gestational age.
From the initial consortium, the EArly Genetics and Lifecoure Epidemiology (EAGLE) Consortium has formed, with many emerging research possibilities. The birth cohort and pregnancy cohort studies that make up the consortium are collaborating to investigate the genetic basis of health and disease in antenatal and early life.
Family and environmental influences
By understanding how social, economic and environmental conditions
affect our lifestyle and our behaviour, we can understand in turn how
these affect our health and that of our children. Where we live, our
family structure, cultural background or whether we are working all have
an effect on how how our children develop and grow, and whether they
Our research around health inequalities focuses on these issues, investigating for example how a pregnant woman's lifestyle (whether she drinks alcohol, smokes, exercises or has the means to eat healthily, for example) affects the health, growth and development of her child.
More information: Health inequalities
In 2005 the Asthma UK Collaborative Initiative was established under the leadership of Professor Janet Stocks. Its aim was to collate lung function data from healthy young children (aged 3-7 years), and use these data to produce equations that predict healthy lung function, not only in preschool years, but that are linked to established reference equations for older children and adults.
Using more appropriate reference equations for preschool children, it was possible to better distinguish between the effects of normal lung growth and development and that of disease. It is envisaged that these new equations will help doctors diagnose, assess and monitor lung disease in young children, and hopefully mean that early lung disease can be detected sooner and monitored more reliably.
Professor Tim Cole, Dr Angie Wade and Dr Sanja Stanojevic from this centre were involved in this initiative, and although this study was completed in 2008, Professor Cole and Dr Wade continue to work in collaboration with other researchers on measuring lung function.In particular the Size And Lung function In Children (SLIC) study is investigating the relationship between body size and composition and lung growth in healthy children of all ethnicities.
Key publication: Age- and size-related reference ranges: A case study of spirometry through childhood and adulthood, Statistics in Medicine, 2009
More information: SLIC Study
Chronic lead poisoning in young children is linked to reduced intelligence and behavioural difficulties. By measuring the level of lead in milk teeth from children participating in the Millennium Cohort Study, this study team will investigate how children's exposure to lead in the environment is affected by where they live, their sex, levels of deprivation, ethnic group and early feeding patterns.
It will also look at how children's lead levels are linked to their physical and mental development.
Principal investigator: Carol Dezateux
Analysing visual function
As well as requiring age-related standards for visual function, the analysis of data relating to visual function requires methods that take into account hierarchical data (since there are data derived from both eyes), and longitudinal data collected over a period of time which must account for the development of the eye as well as the development of the individual as a whole.
This requires specialist methods, and Phillippa Cumberland is working to refine existing statistical approaches and develop new methods which will allow researchers to improve the analysis of ophthalmic data.
Phillippa is lead for paediatric ophthalmology in the UK Ophthalmic Statistics Group.
Statisticians working in this area: Phillippa Cumberland
Page last modified on 31 oct 11 09:44