Open to Talent

Health across the ages

One of Australia's longest-running public health studies is about to enter a new phase

Kira Patterson
Showcased: PhD candidate Kira Patterson.

By Peter Cochrane

Thirty years after the Australian Schools Health and Fitness Survey of 8500 children around Australia aged between seven and 15 was conducted, researchers at the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania are preparing to reassess those participants, now aged between 37 and 45 years.

The Childhood Determinants of Adult Health Study, as it is now called, has involved two previous follow-ups, in 2004-06 with 34 clinics nationally, and 2009-11 (via questionnaires).

Using data from repeated measures of lifestyle, physical characteristics and mental health, the study's long-term aim is to determine the contribution of childhood factors to the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes in later life.

"We can look at … what happens when you move from a rural area to an urban area, and vice-versa."

Third-year PhD candidate Kira Patterson from Launceston, in a presentation as part of Research Week's Menzies Student Showcase, revealed a pilot study for the third follow-up would begin in Tasmania and Victoria in the coming months.

"If we are successful in our application for National Health and Medical Research Council funding, the study would then be rolled out nationally," Ms Patterson said.

"The first two follow-ups were huge undertakings but have produced a huge dataset.

"My research uses this dataset in a bid to understand rural and urban differences in chronic disease behavioural risk factors across the life course. Those risk factors are physical activity, alcohol consumption, smoking, diet and body mass index."

Ms Patterson said this study was important because there was limited research in Australia examining urban and rural populations across the life course. "Most studies … measure just one point in time. The strength of this study is that we have multiple time points. So we can look at what happens over time, for example, what happens when you move from a rural area to an urban area, and vice-versa.

Ms Patterson was one of five students who presented at the showcase. The others were Jayden Young (representing the neuroscience strand of Menzies research); Ricardo Fonseca (cardio-metabolic health and diseases); Xia Yang (musculoskeletal health and diseases) and Emalyn Batley (cancer, immunology and genetics).

Mr Fonseca, a Colombian GP who came to Hobart three years ago to learn English and stayed on to become a PhD candidate, and scholarship recipient Ms Yang represent the multinational face of the Menzies student cohort.