UOW study to track Illawarra families

University of Wollongong researchers Catherine Lucas, Michelle Townsend, Amy Wyatt and Brin Grenyer are running a long-term study on the health of the region. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

University of Wollongong researchers Catherine Lucas, Michelle Townsend, Amy Wyatt and Brin Grenyer are running a long-term study on the health of the region. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Illawarra families are signing up to live their lives under the microscope for a landmark new study being run by the University of Wollongong.

In the tradition of acclaimed documentaries like the ABCs Life and the British Seven Up series,  researchers will check in with around 1000 Illawarra parents and their children at two-year intervals to track their health and wellbeing.

One of Australia’s leading psychologists Professor Brin Grenyer is leading the Illawarra Born Cross-Generation Health Study which will kick off this year with a pilot study of 50 pregnant women, and lead into the full study in 2015.

Prof Grenyer, of the university’s Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI), said the aim of the study was to give ‘‘Illawarra-born’’ babies the best start in life by gathering information on the factors that lead to improved health.

Prenatal development, post-natal depression, parenting choices and rearing styles, attitudes to breastfeeding and more will be examined.

Blood and urine samples will also be collected to check the levels of vitamins such as B12 and D, blood sugar, iodine and cortisol. Mercury, pesticide and lead levels will also give the researchers insight into the participants - and the region.

‘‘What happens in the early years of life is very important for later social development, mental health, schooling achievement and so on,’’ Prof Grenyer said. ‘‘There’s also longer term influences like obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer and more.

‘‘So the foundations of life in some ways set us up for how we’re going to be for the rest of our life. That’s why it’s so important for us to focus on the early years, and this study provides us an opportunity to do that.’’

Prof Grenyer is directing a multi-disciplinary team from IHMRI and the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District on the study. More women are needed for the pilot; they must be less than 22 weeks pregnant and intending to give birth at Wollongong Hospital.

‘‘It’s an opportunity for participants to learn a little bit about their health and be involved in scientific research,’’ Prof Grenyer said. ‘‘It’s also a chance for the Illawarra community to become involved in something that will attract global interest.’’

Once the feasibility study is complete, participants can choose to be involved in the large-scale study.

‘‘We plan to follow up people every two years and publish regular snapshots,’’ Prof Grenyer said.

‘‘It will give us an early warning system around potential health issues that may be arising in the region, as well as help us get a sense of where we fit in terms of Australia and the rest of the world in terms of health.’’

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