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A legacy of a lifetime

Libby Ford and her mother

Libby Ford and her mother (Image copyright: Libby Ford)

Today the 1000th study using data from the ALSPAC, or Children of the 90s, cohort study has been published in the European Journal of Human Genetics. It’s just one of the many findings to have come out of the study, which has analysed the health and development of 14,000 children since the early 1990s. But what’s it like to grow up as a member of the cohort? Here Libby Ford, whose mother enrolled in ALSPAC when she was pregnant, tells us how it feels to know she’s contributing to medical research.   

Growing up it felt perfectly normal to participate in Children of the 90s, as most of the children in my small village primary school did too. But as I grew up I realised that this wasn’t just a part of your average childhood, but actually something special which contributed to valuable research. I feel extremely privileged to have been a part of it.

I still participate in the annual research sessions and questionnaires, and I even opt to take part in further research sessions where I can. I’ve always liked going to the sessions; the staff always made them feel fun, and now I also understand they have a lasting importance.

As a child I would enjoy going to the annual research sessions; at each session we were given a “focus at (insert age)” book where we could fill in a wide range of information about ourselves, such as our height, weight, hearing ability and so on, it also included other fun activities. I still have copies of mine and often look back on them to see how I have changed physically in my childhood. Participating in these sessions was a great way to learn things about myself that I probably never would have known. For example, a fun fact is that I have a higher bone density than the average person.

I am currently studying for a master’s degree in Psychology of Education at the University of Bristol, and during my time at university I’ve realised that I have a love for research and would like it to be a feature of my future career.

Perhaps participating in Children of the 90s has influenced my interests; in any case, now that I understand how invaluable research studies are, it adds an extra layer of enjoyment to my involvement with the study.

The work that ALSPAC has done, and is continuing to do, is often mentioned in my lectures and in discussion among my peers, and I’m proud that others are learning about something that has been such a big part of my life. I am often being asked questions on how I found participating and what tasks I was asked to complete; I occasionally get a poke in class when the research is mentioned!

To have this research continue to adulthood will also hopefully provide interesting information on different aspects of our lives and our health in the future. It’s great to know that my participation in Children of the 90s could help improve someone else’s quality of life.

Libby Ford

ALSPAC stands for the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The 1000th paper using ALSPAC data found that men who started smoking before the age of 11 had fatter sons. The researchers say this could indicate that exposure to tobacco smoke before the start of puberty may lead to metabolic changes in the next generation. 

Last month we published Maximising the value of UK population cohorts, a review of the largest cohort studies in the UK with recommendations on how to get the best out of them in the future. 

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