Feature Article - Childhood Determinants of Adult Health Study
Contributed by Dr Alison Venn, Cohort Epidemiologist, Menzies Centre for Population Health Research.
The Menzies Centre has been awarded more than $2m by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to conduct a major new research program investigating the significance of childhood lifestyle to adult risk of heart disease and diabetes. This grant of $2.3m is Australia’s largest medical research funding grant for 2001, and a record for Tasmania. The funding will enable researchers to follow-up almost 8,500 people from around Australia who, as children, participated in a fitness survey in 1985.
ORIGINAL STUDY, 1985
In the original 1985 study, a range of measures was taken from these 8,500 children, including size, diet, fitness, physical activity and blood tests. The study involved students from 109 schools throughout Australia, including two in Tasmania: Norwood Primary School in Launceston and Cosgrove High School in Hobart. At the time, the students were between 7 and 15 years of age.
PILOT STUDY, 2001
In 2001, the Menzies Centre ran a pilot study to determine the feasibility of conducting follow-up research on all 8,484 students who participated in the original study in 1985. It aimed to recruit 400 of the original participants, from the two Tasmanian schools and from three of the Victorian schools.
The first step for the pilot study was to find the original study participants, some of whom had moved away or changed their name. Contacting all of the original study participants as part of the full follow-up study was acknowledged as a major and difficult task. The pilot study, which was funded by the National Heart Foundation, proved a success and allowed the Centre to determine the most effective strategies for recruiting participants as well as the rate of recruitment likely to be achieved. The success of this pilot study led directly to the awarding of the NHMRC grant.
The Childhood Determinants of Adult Health (CDAH) Study aims to follow this original survey cohort to evaluate their health and fitness now, and in another 10 years time. By following up the original participants, Menzies Centre researchers say they should be able to determine how much lifestyle and other risk factors in childhood affect a person’s chances of developing heart disease and diabetes in later life. While much of what is known today about heart disease and diabetes comes from research conducted in adults, there is evidence to suggest that the early stages of these diseases start to occur in childhood. The follow-up study will also help researchers understand how lifestyle and physical measures in childhood affect respiratory, mental and women's reproductive health.
The Menzies Centre is establishing a collaboration with groups in the US and Finland that have followed up similar cohorts of children with similar measures. Pooling the data from the Australian cohort with cohorts in these countries will increase the ability of the study to detect associations between childhood factors and disease occurring in young adults.
It is hoped that interest created by media coverage of the Menzies Centre's activities will help to attract participants. A promotional campaign will begin late in 2002 as part of measures to recruit the original study participants. Participants will be asked to undertake a free health check, with a follow-up in 10 years. The health check will include measurements of blood pressure, height, weight, waist, hips, and cholesterol and sugar levels through blood samples. There will also be a simple fitness test and a measure of lung function.
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THE STUDY
Anyone who believes they took part in the survey in 1985, or knows any one who did, is asked to contact the Menzies Centre. People with questions about the research can telephone the Centre's toll free number on 1800 638 124 during office hours. More information about the study is also available through the Centre's web site, http://www.menzies.utas.edu.au, or by emailing the study's coordinator, Beverley Curry, at email address Beverley.Curry@utas.edu.au.