£28 million boost to UCL-led birth cohort study

1 March 2011

The largest ever UK-wide study of babies and young children, led by scientists at UCL, today received a landmark £28.5 million commitment from the Government Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

This investment adds to the £5 million previously awarded to UCL by two leading research councils, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC).

This pioneering study will track the growth, development, health, wellbeing and social circumstances of over 90,000 UK babies and their families - from all walks of life – and will initially cover the period from pregnancy right through to the early years. Recruitment is due to begin in 2012. 

Carol Dezateux

It will be the fifth such study in a series of world renowned UK studies which have followed the lives of children from birth to adult life. The first of these started in 1946 with the post war generation and the most recent with those born at the turn of the twenty first century.

As is the case with these earlier studies, this new study will provide a wealth of insights into the health, development and life circumstances of this new generation of children.

It will provide information to help address important questions for children’s health and well-being, including:

– What are the key factors that help some children to overcome social disadvantage at birth and improve their life chances?

– How do eating and physical activity behaviours develop in very early life and influence growth, body composition and weight gain in later childhood?

– How does a child’s early temperament interact with parenting style and influence social and emotional communication styles and difficulties in later childhood?

– What are the effects of exposure to a range of environmental pollutants during early infancy on children’s subsequent health and development?

Professor Carol Dezateux (UCL Institute of Child Health), who is leading the scientific team responsible for the new study, said: "It is crucial we find out more about how biological and environmental influences combine to shape children’s health, development and future life chances. We know that a child’s first year of life can have a huge impact on future health and wellbeing but need to understand more about how this happens and its relation to the diverse social circumstances of families in Britain today. It is particularly exciting that we will start recruiting parents to this unique Study during 2012, a year already made special by the Olympics and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee."

Professor Malcolm Grant, UCL President and Provost, said: "I am delighted by this award. UCL has great expertise in co-ordinating large longitudinal studies, for example Whitehall II and the 1946 cohort. They are immensely complex projects which advance significantly our understanding of humans and society.  Research based on previous birth cohort studies has provided new and unique understanding about factors influencing health and wellbeing in later life. Much will be learned from the data generated by this study, with profound impact on policy and future lifelong health and wellbeing in the UK and beyond. My warmest congratulations to Carol Dezateux and her team."

Image: Professor Carol Dezateux


UCL context

The UCL Institute of Child Health, in partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital, is the largest centre in Europe devoted to clinical and basic research and postgraduate teaching in children’s health.

Great Ormond Street Hospital, along with four other of Britain’s world-renowned medical research centres and hospitals, is part of UCL Partners, a collaboration of world-class researchers and clinicians to create Europe’s strongest academic health science partnership, focused on preventing and treating major diseases that affect the populations in London, the UK and worldwide.

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