Child health inquiry starts with tests on 1,000 babies

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A GROUP of 1,000 babies will attend clinics in the new year for a medical check-up aimed at answering key questions on child health.

Their mothers are taking part in the multi-million pound Children of the 90s study - Britain's biggest investigation into children's health and development.

About 14,000 mothers in the Bristol area were monitored from pregnancy to birth in the first phase. In the second phase, a multi-disciplinary team at the Institute of Child Health, in Bristol, is to investigate the babies in a project called Child Focus.

A generally random selection of 1,000 babies - volunteered by their mothers - will attend special clinics for examination. Medical experts will carry out sophisticated eyesight and hearing tests while checking for anaemia. The babies will be seen regularly from four to 18 months and their mothers asked to keep a dietary diary.

The results will be assessed alongside the major study which will follow the project children until their seventh birthdays.

In the Children of the 90s study the investigators are probing environmental and cultural factors as well as physiological and psychological elements associated with the health of the foetus, child and infant.

Professor Jean Golding, director of the project, said: 'Child Focus is a sub-study. But it is important as we are trying to assess whether screening would be beneficial in key areas at an earlier age. This type of medical check-up has not been carried out before in children as young. It should provide valuable information.'

One of the underlying themes of the Government's White Paper, Health of the Nation, published last summer, was that healthy lifestyles are often established at an early age. Among the targets set by the paper was to cut the number of accidents sustained by children by at least one-third by 2005.