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Maturitas. 2012 May;72(1):23-8. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2012.02.005. Epub 2012 Mar 4.

How the Newcastle Thousand Families birth cohort study has contributed to the understanding of the impact of birth weight and early life socioeconomic position on disease in later life.

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  • 1Institute of Health & Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.


Much has been made of the potential influence of birth weight and early socioeconomic disadvantage in influencing adult health, but little has been published in terms of how important these associations may be with respect to exposures throughout the lifecourse. The objective of this review is to describe the contributions of the Newcastle Thousand Families Study in understanding the relative impacts of factors in early life, particularly birth weight and socio-economic position at birth, in influencing health in later life. The Newcastle Thousand Families Study is a prospective birth cohort established in 1947. It originally included all births to mothers resident in Newcastle upon Tyne, in northern England, in May and June of that year. Study members were followed extensively throughout childhood and intermittently in adulthood. At the age of 49-51 years, study members underwent a large-scale follow-up phase enabling an assessment of how early life may influence their later health, and also incorporating adult risk factors which enabled the relative contributions of factors at different stages of life to be assessed. While some findings from the study do support birth weight and early socio-economic position having influences on adult health status, the associations are generally small when compared to risk factors later in life. Using path analyses on longitudinal data of this nature enables mediating pathways between early life and later health to be assessed and if more studies were to take this approach, the relative importance of early life on adult disease risk could be better understood.

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

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