New research plans confirmed on Bristol health study’s 30th birthday
Press release issued: 28 April 2021
Thirty years after it first started, the Children of the 90s health study – one of the largest, most detailed longitudinal birth cohorts in the world – announced today [28 April] that it will launch its biggest collection of health data yet on three generations of Bristol families in September.
Children of the 90s data has been used in over 2,200 health studies around the world to date.
The new clinic will take place at the University of Bristol (where the study is based) and will be the study’s largest ever clinic, aiming to enhance our knowledge about health and wellbeing – leaning on the great experience gained whilst undertaking valuable research through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professor Jean Golding OBE launched the study in 1990 inviting all pregnant women with an expected due date between April 1991 to December 1992 in the greater Bristol area to take part using postcards handed out by midwives at antenatal clinics. Unusually for the time, the study enrolled mothers during pregnancy and hoped to understand how environment, genes and lifestyle impacted on the developing foetus and child’s development.
The new clinic will launch in September 2021 and is called ‘@30’ to reflect 30 years of the study. The original Children of the 90s babies (who are now turning 30) – the focus of the study - will be invited to take part in a face-to-face clinic alongside their partners, children and parents. This brings together all three generations of the study for the first time and will be the largest data collection yet.
New “virtual clinics” will also be launched alongside the in-person sessions, to allow for flexibility with any future potential COVID-19 restrictions and also to make it safer, easier and more convenient for people to take part in the study. Gathering such detailed health and lifestyle data on Children of the 90s participants will allow researchers to continue to explore a huge number of potential connections between life course factors, health and wellbeing.
Participants will have various clinical measurements and samples taken including height, weight, blood pressure, lung function, hearing and vision alongside assessments of their mental health and cognitive function. The data and biological samples collected will be added to one of the world’s most detailed biomedical resources for health researchers.
Looking back, over 2,200 research articles have been published using the study’s data and samples. These include topics as wide-ranging as diet and fitness, mental health, autism, parenting patterns, self-harm and the impact of genes, environment and major life events on physical and mental health.
Recent studies have tracked the impact of COVID-19 mitigation measures on the mental health of all three generations in the study – marking a worrying increase in anxiety in young people and a worsening pattern of emotional difficulties and behavioural issues in primary school-aged children. Current studies are also exploring the immune response to COVID-19 after infection or vaccination and seek to understand and provide better clinical treatments for long-COVID.
Professor Nic Timpson, Principal Investigator commented:
“From the very beginning, the Children of the 90s health study has challenged convention by collecting all the health data it could. In doing so, it demonstrated the value of detailed, repeated health data collection across generations over time.
Today the study is recognised globally both for the value of its health data and the commitment of its participants. Using our data, scientists are helping treat and prevent ill health around the world.
Without the foresight of Professor Golding and the generosity of the original Bristol mothers she recruited we would know far less about the ways in which health and development are impacted by our lifestyle, genes and the environment in which we live.
We are enormously excited to welcome our participants – the original children and their parents - to the upcoming @30 Clinic in September and now encourage anyone who hasn’t been involved for a while to get back in touch – their data is as unique and valuable now as it was as when they were new-borns in the 1990s.”
Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bristol added:
“We are hugely proud of the Children of the 90s health study which has contributed so much to science around the world. It shows a remarkable partnership between our university and the city of Bristol can answer key science questions – such as learning about the COVID-19 pandemic. The study participants continue to share their unique life stories and this next clinic marks an important milestone for this bank of life.”
Children of the 90s participants who have lost touch with the study can update their details or get back in touch with the study by visiting childrenofthe90s.ac.uk/get_in_touch or text their name & date of birth to 07772 909090 if they were born in the Bristol area between April 1991 and December 1992 to check if they are eligible.
About Children of the 90s
Based at the University of Bristol, Children of the 90s, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), is a long-term health-research project that enrolled more than 14,500 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. It has been following the health and development of the parents and their children in detail ever since and is currently recruiting the children of the original children into the study.
The study has a huge catalogue of data and biosamples and continues to be used to collect new material. These resources can be used to quickly answer policy questions that arise given current conditions. Rapid response to important social and health questions has been a hallmark of the Children of the 90s’ contribution to COVID-19. Contributions have varied widely - from asking about the age of grandparents or the social and health effects of lockdown to finding out how long immunity lasts or how effective vaccines will be.
The study receives core funding from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol, where it is based. Find out more at www.childrenofthe90s.ac.uk.
Children of the 90s in numbers:
- 14,500 pregnant Bristol mothers were recruited who were due to give birth between April 1991- December 1992 at Weston-Super-Mare, Southmead or Frenchay district hospitals.
- Well over 20,000 participants are active in the study including 11,900 original mothers, 3,400 original dads, 11,300 Children of the 90s, 1,200 children of the Children of the 90s (aged 0-13 years)
- 1.5 million biological samples have been collected – including blood, urine, baby teeth, placentas, hair & toenails.
- 26,000 DNA samples now stored
- 1,000 brain scans
- 3,000 heart echo scans
- More than 74,000 data variables collected from three generations of study participants (includes questionnaires, blood measures and clinic information)
As the original children approach or turn 30 years old, many continue to complete annual questionnaires (now online) and visit clinics.
Key findings from the study include:
- Babies sleep more safely on their backs – leading to the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign and saving thousands of lives.
- Iodine deficiency in pregnancy adversely affects children’s cognitive development. Urine samples from Children of the 90s women during pregnancy was used to find that levels of iodine at this time was linked to their child’s IQ and reading ability by the age of nine. This research led to production of a fact sheet for the public, including pregnant women, which provides advice on how to ensure adequate iodine intake through the diet (2013).
- Babies exposed to skin creams containing peanut oil were more likely to develop a peanut allergy. Now, all products must clearly list the ingredient, and many have removed it (2003).
- Early signs of a genetic liability to Type 2 diabetes can be seen in children as young as 8 years old (2020).
- Common changes in our genetic code really can have an impact on complex health factors such as our weight (2008).
- The proportion of young people experiencing anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic almost doubled when compared to previous levels, increasing from 13% to 24% (2020).
- Worrying rates of poor liver health among young adults were identified for the first time –highlighting the challenge of obesity and a first attempt to determine the prevalence of fatty liver disease and fibrosis in young healthy adults in the UK (2021).