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Last Updated: Friday, 15 June 2007, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Tracking babies' life chances
By Catherine Marston
BBC News social affairs

Baby
There is concern about the health of newborn babies in Bradford
The first newborn babies and expectant mothers to take part in a pioneering health study will meet on Friday for the first time.

The research is called Born in Bradford and parents and newborns in the city are being recruited to help researchers understand which factors can affect health and wellbeing.

Born in Bradford is one of the world's biggest studies into the reasons behind why some children fall ill while others do not.

It will track the lives of more than 10,000 babies born in the city over three years from pregnancy, through childhood, until they become adults.

Born in Bradford is the latest in the 60-year history of post-war birth "cohort" studies of society in Britain.

What is a cohort study?

Cohort studies are a special type of research project in which a group of people with something in common are followed for a period of time to identify what factors affect them.

Researchers attempt to identify a causal relationship between any differences, such as illness. In birth cohort studies, like Born in Bradford, the factor in common is time and place of birth - all the babies born in the city in the two years from autumn 2006.

Factors recorded by Born in Bradford researchers in pregnancy or early life may prove to cause illnesses or other problems later on.

With this knowledge, more will be understood about the reasons children become ill and may open up exciting ways of treating and preventing illness.

Why Bradford?

Despite being the fifth largest city in the UK the city's health is cause for concern. Bradford has higher than average levels of deprivation and child poverty.

Life expectancy for both adult male and females is lower than the national average too. But one of the biggest causes for concern is the high infant mortality rate.

The number of babies who die before reaching their first birthday is amongst the highest in the country.

The causes of infant mortality and other problems facing Bradford's babies - such as low birth weight - are not well understood. If more is known, it would be possible to identify people at increased risk and maybe offer new treatments.

Illnesses affecting people later in life, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, are thought to be influenced by factors in pregnancy and childhood - again, it's vital more is understood to be able to treat them more effectively. Bradford is also an ethnically diverse area.

Who is taking part?

Mothers such as Naz Shah, 33, who gave birth to a son, Aydan Shoaib on 7 May after being induced at 38 weeks and one day because of his mother's diabetes.

He was born at Bradford Royal Infirmary weighing 6lb 15 ounces.

Naz's diabetes puts both mum and child at increased risk of diabetes-related health problems in later life.

"I feel very strongly that I would like to be involved in the project as it will provide a very useful resource for the community," she said.

Her work in public health in Bradford means she is aware of the higher risks in the South Asian community of diseases such as diabetes, cancer and coronary heart disease.

Being involved in the project will involve blood tests for both her and her baby, as well as one extra health visit a year, where extra measurements of the baby's head and abdominal circumference will be taken.

What kind of data will be collected?

Blood samples will be taken from mothers and fathers before the birth and a sample will also be taken from the newborn baby. The family will also fill in a detailed lifestyle form asking about issues such as diet, living conditions and exercise.

The families will be monitored annually and their profiles updated.

How will the data be used?

The blood samples will provide a DNA profile of each person. That along with the questionnaires will allow researchers to assess how health is impacted by environmental conditions as well as genetic make-up.

It will also become a valuable research tool for those looking at specific diseases such as epilepsy or asthma.

Graphic: Mortality rates, 1976-2005




SEE ALSO
Infant deaths under the spotlight
05 Apr 05 |  Bradford
Infant deaths 'linked to poverty'
06 Dec 06 |  Bradford

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