Health check is spot on

November 22, 1996

MORE THAN 400 people living in the Northeast of England are about to be investigated by Newcastle University's "Red Spot" child health study.

The unique study, being carried out by researchers in the school of medicine's child health department, has nothing to do with measles or chickenpox.

Originally known as the "Thousand Families Study", it began in 1947, when all babies born in Newcastle during May and June were entered into the study and had their health file marked by a red spot. From the original 1,142 babies, 976 were still in the study after one year, and most were monitored until the the age of 15.

The medical school has traced more than 850 of these "Red Spots", who celebrate their 50th birthday next year. It will initially concentrate on the 430 living in Newcastle and North Tyneside.

The study, backed by more than Pounds 260,000 from the Wellcome Trust, aims to discover how lifestyle affects health. Questionnaires are being sent out containing 112 questions on the family, housing, education and work history, as well as on smoking, alcohol and diet, personal and family health, exercise and social life.

Once the questionnaires are done, the Red Spots will have their height, weight and lungs measured, as well as their bone density, which is related to osteoporosis.

Research associate Melanie Cohen said the study would look particularly at heart and lung disease, diabetes and strokes.

"The first year of the study in 1947 covered information from midwives, paediatricians and health visitors, and every cough or wheeze was noted, so there is extensive information about any illnesses or respiratory problems," she said. "Later on, a lot of economic and social information was gathered, so we can use what we've already got and compare it with what we're gleaning."

The researchers reckon it will take two years to complete the Red Spots' health checks before they can begin analysing the results.

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