The Exploring Prenatal influences on Childhood Health, or EPoCH project, investigates how parents’ lifestyles in the important prenatal period might affect the health of their children.
The project is led by Dr Gemma Sharp who works at the University of Bristol’s MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit.
EPoCH is funded by an MRC New Investigator Research Grant awarded in November 2018.
What is EPoCH investigating and why?
We urgently need better evidence about how our experiences before birth might influence our longterm health. Until now, most of the research in this area has focused on how pregnant mothers behave, but the evidence is patchy and health advice offered to pregnant women can be confusing and inconsistent.
It’s important that we consider fathers too and try to tease apart correlation from causation to understand more about how parents might influence the health of their children.
EPoCH will study whether and how parents’ behaviours like drinking alcohol, smoking, low activity and high fat or sugary diets might impact childhood health and social outcomes like birth weight, cleft lip/palate, obesity, cognitive and school performance.
The findings will highlight whether attempts to improve health are best targeted at mothers, fathers or both parents.
EPoCH draws together detailed and diverse data that has already been collected through several large birth cohort studies from the UK, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.
The project uses state-of-the-art statistical methods to investigate whether parental health behaviours causally influence child health, or whether they are just correlated with child health because of other “confounding” factors.
Where it looks like the relationship is causal, further statistical analysis will help us infer whether the health outcome is influenced by maternal behaviour, paternal behaviour, or a combination of the two.
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