Why do pregnant women smoke? The question is one of several puzzles to be unravelled by the centre for health and medical research opening at Teesside University. Director Peter Kelley says that the centre will seek to examine the generally poor health record of the people of Teesside.
Four research studentships, including a study examining young people's perceptions of risk in smoking and pregnancy, are about to get under way.
Eight projects were launched last week and Dr Kelley's team of researchers aim to bring together local health organisations, university academics, doctors, nurses and psychologists to tackle major problem areas.
"There are probably many different factors contributing to the poor health of the population here," said Dr Kelley, a medical statistician formerly at Newcastle University.
"Heavy industry, unemployment, poverty, poor nutrition, smoking - all of these factors are linked but we don't know precisely how."
The legacy of poor health is all too clear. New statistics reveal that smoking - standing at 50 per cent of women between 16 and 45 - has probably contributed to alarmingly high levels of lung cancer among women.
The incidence of smoking among men is also significantly higher than the national average.
A survey is planned of 15,000 people on Teesside to measure their quality of health as they perceive it, the largest such study in the United Kingdom.
The relationship between stress and various illnesses including the bowel disorder, Crohn's disease, which has a high incidence in the region, will also come under the microscope.
"The most important aspect of our work will be to identify opportunities for collaborative health service research which will benefit the people of Teesside," Dr Kelley said.
"Targeted health promotion can then be much more effective."