Life Study: understanding lives now and for the future

The pilot study will run at University College Hospital (UCH) between October and December this year and will test the questions and survey measures in volunteers before Life Study starts recruiting pregnant mothers, babies and families next year.

Life Study continues to build Britain’s reputation as a world-leader in such studies, a reputation which started with a ground-breaking study of people born in 1946 who have been seen 22 times so far throughout their lives. Life Study will provide insights into a generation born almost 70 years later than those in the first cohort.

“We know from research based on the UK’s earlier birth cohort studies that a child’s early life experiences and their family and wider social environment have a major impact on their future health, wellbeing, education and life chances,” explains Professor Carol Dezateux, Director of Life Study and Professor of Paediatric Epidemiology at ICH.

A child’s early life experiences and their family and wider social environment have a major impact on their future health, wellbeing, education and life chances.

Professor Carol Dezateux, UCL Institute of Child Health

The UK birth cohort studies have provided important evidence to inform health, educational, social and economic policies and will continue to do so. Collectively they provide unprecedented opportunities for investigating the links between the early years and family structure and later education, employment, health and wellbeing. Much of this research points to pregnancy and the first year of life as a critical period in the life course. Life Study has been designed to address gaps in knowledge over this period from a cross-disciplinary perspective, ensuring that the data collected will be a powerful resource for social, population, life and clinical sciences and policy research that will make a difference to children’s lives.

With this in mind, Life Study focuses on a number of broad research themes chosen to answer important questions that matter to the health and lives of children now.

These range from early life antecedents of school readiness to developmental origins of health and childhood illness. For example Life Study will develop a rich understanding of eating behaviours and physical activity in babies and their parents in very early life. The insights gained into these intergenerational and early life factors will inform the timing and focus of policies to tackle childhood obesity and physical inactivity – one of the major public health challenges for children in the 21st century.

“Life Study is a hugely exciting initiative, ambitious in scale and scope and designed to foster cross-disciplinarity in life course research,” says Professor Dezateux. “It capitalises on the UK’s strengths in the social, environmental, clinical and biomedical sciences by drawing on cutting edge developments and advances in these disciplines.

“The Life Study scientific leadership team includes outstanding researchers in many fields from UCL and other leading UK universities,” continues Professor Dezateux. “The team expertise ranges from environmental sciences to economics, from epigenetics to education and it has interests in diverse scientific lines of enquiry ranging from infection to inequalities. We hope Life Study will attract early career researchers into working in longitudinal and life course research.”

Life Study contributes to the Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources CLOSER programme. CLOSER aims to maximise the use, value and impact of these studies both within the UK and abroad. This will ensure that Life Study can be used in cross-cohort analyses – a powerful technique for analysing the life course of successive generations which have experienced different social, economic and policy conditions.

A crucial element for Life Study is close partnership with and support from maternity units – essential in order to make contact with women and their partners during pregnancy. The Life Study team has been working with UCLPartners and the first Life Study maternity centre over the summer.

Life Study is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Medical Research Council (MRC) and UCL. It is part of the Birth Cohort Facility Project, which receives funding from the Government’s Large Facilities Capital Fund.

To take part:

If you or someone you know may be interested in giving a few hours of your time to the pilot study, Life Study would like to hear from you. Your contribution will help Life Study make a big difference to understanding the lives of children and families now and for the future. You can contact the pilot research team to establish if you are eligible by calling freephone 0800 652 3751 or emailing [email protected]