Background: There is a strong interest in the concept of developmental origins of health and disease and their influence on various factors “from cradle to grave”. Despite the increasing appreciation of this lifelong legacy across the human life course, many gaps remain in the scientific understanding of mechanisms influencing these formative phases. Cross-generational susceptibility to health problems is emerging as a focus of research in the context of birth cohort studies.
The primary aim of the Illawarra Born study is to make scientific discoveries associated with improving health and wellbeing across the lifespan, with a particular focus on preventable chronic diseases, especially mental health. This birth cohort study will follow and collect data from three cohorts representing different stages across the lifespan: infants, adults (parents) and older adults (grandparents). The multi-generational, cross-sectional and longitudinal design of this birth cohort study supports a focus on the contributions of genetics, environment and lifestyle on health and wellbeing. The feasibility of conducting a multi-generational longitudinal birth cohort project was conducted through a small pilot study.
Methods/design: The purpose of this paper is to report on the feasibility and acceptability of the research protocol for a collaborative cross-generation health study in the community and test recruitment and outcome measures for the main study. This feasibility study included pregnant women who were intending to give birth in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven region in Eastern Australia. The area includes a large, regional referral hospital, with capacity to treat specialist and complex cases. Pregnant women were asked to participate in five data collection waves beginning at 22 weeks gestation and ending with a 6-month post-partum appointment. Recruitment was then extended, via the pregnant women, to also include fathers and maternal grandmothers.
Discussion: This feasibility study focused on the perinatal period and collected data across three multi-disciplinary domains including mental health, diet, exposures to toxins and the role of these in maternal and infant outcomes. Forty-one families participated in extensive data collection from 22 weeks gestation to 6-months post-partum. Factors impacting on viability and feasibility including recruitment solutions provide the basis for a large-scale study.