Most of the common chronic metabolic diseases of adulthood, and those that ultimately reduce life expectancy, have their origin in childhood. At this time in life, genetic factors, which are often reflected in family history and ethnic background, interact with children’s growth and development, and a range of environmental and lifestyle influences. Ultimately, opportunities for the prevention of major adult diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease lie in childhood. However, in order to be able to screen for early evidence for disease, or risk of disease, there is need to understand how and when these diseases originate during childhood.
The EarlyBird study is an important “cohort study” designed to investigate childhood predictors of adult health. The study was originally set up by Professor Wilkin in 1999. The study was designed to investigate the origins of weight gain and the long term effects of weight gain and obesity on the risks of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The EarlyBird study is one of only a small number of long term cohort studies of healthy children around the world, and has made a significant contribution to understanding the early origins of obesity-related adult disease.
The EarlyBird study started collecting data in 2000 when the 300 young participants were aged 5 and the most recent set of data was completed in 2016 when all participants had reached the age of 18 years. Therefore, the participants were followed from childhood, through adolescence, and into adult life and the completion of growth and development. Since the start of the study, obesity and diabetes have become huge public health concerns, not just in the UK, but around the world, and so lessons from the EarlyBird study are even more important now in 2020. With the passage of time, the EarlyBird study becomes an increasingly valuable and unique resource.
The research group has close research collaborations with the Nestle Institute for Health Research at the university of Lausanne, who have been interested in children’s nutrition and long term health. We also have a collaboration with Professor Ranjan Yajnik at King Edward memorial Hospital Research Centre in Pune, India. This collaborative study is investigating ethnic differences in children’s adiposity and insulin resistance.
The outstanding publication output of the EarlyBird study currently includes around 80 peer reviewed papers on all aspects of child development, endocrinology, health and metabolism, and risks of development of diabetes. Important recent publications include the demonstration that blood glucose levels in children result from an interaction of weight gain and insulin resistance with genetic factors affecting insulin secretion. This observation shows how type 2 diabetes is likely to arise as a result of interaction between genetic and environmental factors (Carayol et al 2020), and has important public health implications. We have also investigated metabonomic signatures of obesity and insulin resistance, with unique findings, revealing the complex biochemical changes that precede and accompany the development of insulin resistance during children’s development (Hosking et al 2019, Cominetti et al 2020).
- Peninsula Clinical Trials Unit (PenCTU)
- Professor Jonathan Pinkney, University of Plymouth
- Dr Joanne Hosking, University of Plymouth
- Dr Gail Rees, University of Plymouth