Researchers welcomed Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge to UCL to discuss a new study, the Children of the 2020s, which will follow the early years of over 8,000 babies born in 2021. During the visit, The Duchess learned more about the importance of longitudinal studies like Next Steps for understanding the factors that shape our lives.
The new Children of the 2020s study is being led by a UCL team which includes the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, where Next Steps and three other longitudinal studies (with participants born in 1958, 1970 and 2000-02) are based. The study will recruit families next year to track the development of children from the age of nine months to five years.
Speaking ahead of the visit, The Duchess of Cambridge said: “Our early childhoods shape our adult lives and knowing more about what impacts this critical time is fundamental to understanding what we as a society can do to improve our future health and happiness.
“The landmark ‘Children of the 2020s’ study will illustrate the importance of the first five years and provide insights into the most critical aspects of early childhood, as well as the factors which support or hinder positive lifelong outcomes.”
During the visit, The Duchess viewed archive material of historic research and survey documents. This included a ‘Birth Questionnaire’ given to mothers of the cohort born in 1958, which, among other topics, featured questions about their smoking habits. The responses allowed researchers to track the impact that smoking during pregnancy had on a baby’s birth weight, and also how it continued to negatively affect different aspects of a child’s life into adulthood. This led to a public health campaign in the 1970s to discourage women from smoking while pregnant, helping to improve the health of future generations.
Professor Alissa Goodman, Director of the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies said: “Some of the most important sources of evidence we have on the early years are the UK’s unique collection of birth cohort studies. One of the most important things we’ve found is how the influence of our early experiences – even in utero – continue to reveal themselves through the whole of our lives.
“We’re delighted HRH, The Duchess of Cambridge, will be able to follow the Children of the 2020s study from its infancy. It is the latest in a proud tradition of cohort studies and will be critical in showing us how the lives of babies being born now will be different to the generations that came before them.”