York researchers collaborate in ‘most important health study in generation’

University of York

In a groundbreaking new health study, a team of researchers will capture the journeys of 30,000 Bradford schoolchildren from adolescence to adulthood.


Bradford City CentreThe researchers will work with young people in Bradford aged 13-19 to gather information on physical and mental wellbeing, as well as health and social inequalities.

Researchers from the University of York and Hull York Medical School will work in partnership with the Bradford Institute for Health Research (BIHR) on the new seven-year project, which has secured £7m in funding from the Wellcome Trust.

Known as Age of Wonder, the project will launch later this month.

It will expand on the work of the successful Born in Bradford (BiB) programme – which launched in 2007 and is now one of the biggest and most exciting health research studies in the world, with more than 13,000 children already taking part.

Challenges

Professor Kate Pickett from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York said: “Young people today face all of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of all the usual challenges of adolescence and the transition to adulthood, and they are growing up in a fast-changing economic, social and environmental context. It’s exciting to be able to navigate that journey with them, to better understand their lifelong health and wellbeing.”

Professor Simon Gilbody from the Hull York Medical School (HYMS) and Department of Health Sciences at the University of York added: “Mental health is central to the Age of Wonder programme. We know that the roots of adult mental health problems are nearly always found in childhood. Age of Wonder provides a unique opportunity to better understand the determinants of mental health, and to begin to intervene and prevent mental ill health across the lifespan.”

Director of BIHR, Professor John Wright, said: “Young people across Bradford will have this unique opportunity to be part of the most important study of their generation. They will help us create a detailed picture of every aspect of what it’s like to grow up in Bradford, the youngest city in the UK with almost a third of people aged under 20. As we follow these young people from age 13 to 21, our research will give us a window into their world like never before – and our findings will help to shape new ways of improving their physical and mental health.”

New opportunities

The study will see the Age of Wonder research team:

  • Work alongside young people aged 13 – 19 to explore wide-ranging topics – such as physical and mental wellbeing, and health and social inequalities – and capturing information via surveys in school.
  • Collect measurements and biological samples from students in year 9 to give an insight into the physical health of young people in the district, and shape service improvements to tackle systemic health issues such as diabetes and obesity
  • Collaborate with almost 40 secondary schools to embed the research into the curriculum, and to inspire more young people into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, digital technologies and the Arts, as well as create new opportunities for skills building

Evidence from BiB has already helped to uncover the harm of air pollution, the impact of people’s diet and exercise, how the urban environment affects health, and the early causes of diabetes and heart disease.

Strategic importance

Professor Matthias Ruth, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of York said the partnership was of strategic importance.

He said: “Age of Wonder represents a major investment in research and in the health of young people in Yorkshire. York is proud to be part of this collaboration, and this cements our strategic partnership with the City of Bradford.”

Professor Una Macleod, Dean of Hull York Medical School, added: “We understand the impact mental ill health can have on individuals, and through our work are committed to raising awareness, increasing understanding and developing interventions which really make a difference for people in our region and beyond. Born in Bradford is already a fantastic resource and platform for world-leading research into health and disease, and we are delighted to be contributing to this next stage through the Age of Wonder project. I congratulate the team on bringing this major investment to Yorkshire.”

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