Professor Shantini Paranjothy and Dr Shang-Ming Zhou talk about some of their research around prevention and explain why supporting good maternal and infant health is so important to reducing infant health inequalities and giving babies the best start in life.
Professor Shantini Paranjothy, NCPHWR researcher, based at Cardiff University
My research focuses on encouraging healthier pregnancies and reducing infant health inequalities. Recently our team worked on a collaborative study led by a team at Bristol University, the findings from the study were of significant national importance as they provided the first indication of the scale of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), in the UK. The condition can result in learning and behaviour difficulties, and in some cases can result in physical abnormalities in babies – and is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy. We analysed data on 13,495 children and found that up to 79 per cent in the sample were exposed to alcohol in pregnancy with 17 per cent of children who were exposed screened positive for symptoms of FASD.
FASD is a significant public health concern and our research highlights the size of the problem and the need for changes to policy and practice in order for numbers of babies with FASD to be reduced and better care provided as these children grow into adults.
Dr Shang-Ming Zhou, NCPHWR researcher, based at Swansea University
Physical activity is important at all stages of life, in a recent study, we tracked the physical activity of 141 twelve month-old infants (77 boys and 64 girls) using accelerometers, which they wore on their ankles for a week. We looked at how active the children were during the day and at night. We studied things like weight, diet diaries and medical records from the mothers’ pregnancy, as well as the infants’ own birth and GP records.
Overall, the research showed that getting the right start means that other healthy behaviours fall in to place more easily. Across the board we found that active babies are healthy, are of good weight and are born full term. In addition, the larger babies who had been born full term were more active.
We found that diet is an important factor when it comes to being an active child. The children who were breastfed and those who ate more vegetables were more active. Infants who were less active had a more adult style diet, with juice rather than milk and adult crisps. As well as improving their activity levels, healthy eating behaviours, such as having a higher vegetable intake, adopted at this age are likely to be carried through life too. This, when combined with another finding that infants born prematurely, and who do not put on weight well after birth, move less, also suggests that preterm and low birthweight infants should be breastfed for longer, and that a healthy diet of milk and vegetables is even more important for them. We also found that active babies sleep better than less active babies. This suggests that encouraging activity could have a knock-on effect on improving other behaviours like good sleep practices. This research highlights how crucial good diet and sleep can have on a child’s development, and can help build a healthy foundation for lifelong health and wellbeing.
Developing prevention strategies relies on the clear understanding of the risk factors for the outcomes. Machine learning and predictive analytics techniques play critical roles in identifying risk factors for prevention in our research.
Click the image below to read the next article which focuses on early years: