The landmark Born in Bradford project which is tracking the lives of more than 13,500 children across the city has been awarded a £3m grant to expand its research into why some stay healthy but others don’t.
The award, made by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will ensure that new studies examining the health and wellbeing of at least 9,000 of the original Born in Bradford children, now aged between 7 and 10 years-old, will start.
Born in Bradford Director, Professor John Wright, who is based at the Bradford Institute for Health Research – which is leading the Born in Bradford project, said: “We are thrilled by the award of this prestigious research council funding.
“Doctors and nurses in Bradford have been working closely with the UK’s leading scientists to develop a programme of research in Born in Bradford that will help us to improve the lives of future generations of children.”
The Born in Bradford project started in 2007 and is one of the largest medical research studies of its kind anywhere in the world.
The impetus for the research came on the back of Bradford’s high infant mortality rates – which were double the national average – and a determination to tackle a raft of growing health issues in the city.
The project aims to find out more about the causes of childhood illness by studying children from different cultures and backgrounds as their lives unfold. In some cases it might reinforce what we already know, but it has quickly yielded some interesting findings.
This latest cash injection means that researchers will be able to collect new information from families already taking part in the study.
Altogether more than 9,000 of the study’s children who were first recruited while their mothers were pregnant, and who are now aged between 6 to 9-years-old, will be asked, along with their 13,500 mothers and fathers, to complete new questionnaires about their lives, health and wellbeing. It’s hoped that the new data collected will mean that the Born in Bradford cohort will provide a platform to support world-leading research across a wide range of areas.
Further projects to be funded by the new grant will include research into the children’s social and emotional wellbeing as these factors are found to be key to the development of healthy behaviours and educational attainment. Currently there is limited understanding about the early life influences that are important in shaping how children develop.
Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York and the University’s Research Champion for Justice and Equality is leading this research on how children develop socially and emotionally.
She said: “Children’s social and emotional wellbeing is crucial for their long-term health and achievement and this grant will help us to understand how children’s family, social class and ethnic backgrounds promote their healthy development in these areas.
The researchers will also investigate the causes of the children’s brain development in terms of how they process information, their perceptual skills and language learning. It is well known that children who are socially disadvantaged are at a higher risk of cognitive deficits, including poor motor co-ordination, which can have long-term implications for physical and mental health.
Ethnic inequalities in development have been identified from the first year of life, but the relationship between ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in cognition and motor skills remains unclear, so the project will explore the complex interaction between the community, family, environment, lifestyle, molecular and genetic characteristics that influence child understanding and intellect.
Finally researchers will examine the reasons behind why some children are predisposed to obesity while others are healthier. Researchers suspect that those children from the South Asian community, compared to White Europeans may have a body shape and size from birth which places them under increased risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Professor Debbie Lawlor from the University of Bristol is leading this research to determine how our environment in the womb and first few years of life can lead to childhood obesity and later diabetes and heart disease.
She added: “We face a time bomb of obesity and diabetes, particularly in South Asian communities. The research we will be undertaking in Bradford has a genuine opportunity to tackle this at its roots.”
Born in Bradford has already produced some notable research successes to date including the creation of a Yorkshire-wide congenital anomalies register; becoming the first Trust in the UK to provide diabetes screening for all pregnant women and developing a mobile phone app to help parents and health professionals monitor children’s weight.
Born in Bradford’s research has also helped show that exposure to air pollution caused by fumes from vehicles can significantly restrict the growth of babies in the womb, with its findings published in the health journal The Lancet.
Such findings are important because they allow health professionals to see trends early and can encourage parents to adopt healthier diets that could save the NHS huge sums of money further down the road.