Children of the 90s

PARENTS, POPULATIONS, PIONEERS

Children of the 90s, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, is a multi-generational health research study based in Bristol.

Behind the unassuming doors of Oakfield House in Clifton is a room full of freezers. Inside is a collection of nail clippings, baby teeth, locks of hair, blood cells and saliva. It's not the set of a horror film – this bank of 1.2 million biological samples is part of Bristol’s pioneering research study, Children of the 90s.

For the last 30 years, researchers have been collecting, analysing and studying a huge range of health and lifestyle data from families in Bristol and the surrounding area. With more than 27,000 participants from three generations, it's the most detailed study of its kind in the world.

When we started, they asked why we collected so many participants. Later, they asked why we collected so few!

Professor Jean Golding OBE, Project founder

The project has led to more than 2,000 papers on topics such as diet and fitness, parenting patterns, autism, allergies and self-harm and the impact of genes, environment and major life events on physical and mental health.

What is a longitudinal study?

A longitudinal study is an observational research project that lasts several months, years or in this case, decades. Researchers conduct multiple observations of the same people over a period of time, so they can detect changes and establish sequences of events.

Children of the 90s is a cohort study, meaning the group of research subjects was selected based on a specific event – in this case, being born in 1991 or 1992. It’s part of a branch of science called epidemiology, which studies how people live their lives.

A parent and child from the Children of the 90s project (photo by Dave Pratt)

Influencing science and policy

As well as being used by Bristol’s own scientists, data from Children of the 90s is available to researchers around the world. Every time the team makes a new discovery, it is shared with public health workers, the government, and other scientists.

The project continues to provide rich data about environmental and genetic factors that affect health and development. The resulting research informs policy and practice that aims to provide a better life for future generations.

Breakthroughs powered by research

Children of the 90s has contributed to discoveries with big impacts on science and policy. Through the study data, researchers have found that:

  • Babies sleep more safely on their backs – leading to the ‘Back to Sleep’ campaign and saving thousands of lives.
  • 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.
  • Early signs of a genetic liability to Type 2 diabetes can be seen in children as young as 8 years old.
  • Common changes in our genetic code can have an impact on complex health factors such as weight and adiposity.
  • Biological samples can be used to generate measures of how our genes are regulated and how our cells respond to different life events.
  • The proportion of young people experiencing anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic almost doubled when compared to previous levels.
  • Concerning rates of poor liver health among young adults were identified for the first time – highlighting the impact of obesity and providing a reference point for clinicians.

A researcher from the Children of the 90s project (photo by Nick Smith)

Jean Golding

The Children of the 90s study was founded by Bristol’s renowned Emeritus Professor Jean Golding OBE. Golding has worked on many longitudinal studies in her career and lends her name to Bristol’s Jean Golding Institute, a hub for data science and research founded in 2016.

The study is now led by Professor Nic Timpson.

Looking to the future

The study collects a huge amount of data, not all of which is immediately used in a particular research project. Its ambition to ‘collect everything’ has been an advantage during the coronavirus pandemic. With almost 30 years of data and samples on a wide range of factors, Children of the 90s has been a valuable resource for research around COVID-19.

During 2020 and 2021, participants have helped researchers understand more about the disease by completing questionnaires about how the pandemic has affected them, taking antibody tests, and having face-to-face visits to assess the impact of the infection.

Children of the 90s is in a unique position because we have such a large cohort of people... We’ve got data going back over 30 years, and this, coupled with our most recent questionnaire, will allow us to better understand the population dynamics of the disease.

Professor Nic Timpson, Principal Investigator

The study will continue to follow participants throughout their lives, as well as the next generation – the Children of the Children of the 90s.

A researcher from the Children of the 90s project (photo by Nick Smith)

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