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Press release issued: 9 June 2003
Scientists at the University of Bristol have been awarded £1.2 million by an American research agency to study children's exercise and activity levels - and the connection with weight problems
The prestigious National Institutes of Health, based in Maryland, USA, are funding Bristol's Department of Exercise and Health Sciences to investigate the role of physical activity in the development of childhood obesity - and they need 8,000 Bristol schoolchildren to help.
The children are all members of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) - Children of the 90s. They have been followed since birth in the largest ongoing population study of its kind.
The grant gives the go-ahead to four years of research. It is being seen as international recognition for the Department of Exercise and Health Sciences in Tyndall Avenue - and confirmation of ALSPAC's value as a world resource of information on childhood.
"This is a major grant for sport and exercise science," said Dr Chris Riddoch. "It is a new scientific field - it doesn't usually get grants like this, so we are over the moon."
The children, who were all born in 1991 and 1992, are being asked to wear a tiny activity monitor or accelerometer - a matchbox-sized gadget on a waistband which is capable of recording every move they make for a week..
At the end of the week - the monitors are returned to ALSPAC staff, who give every child a print-out showing just how active (or inactive) they have been at different times of day.
The children will be monitored at the ages of 11 and 13 to see how they and their activity levels have changed during adolescence.
The scientists want to pinpoint why it is that some children will end up as overweight teenagers (and potentially overweight adults) - while others grow up without any problem.
Dr Riddoch says: "It is not just how much exercise they take. We want to look at patterns of activity. Families who go out walking every weekend may well be different from children who are running around all the time. We want to see what difference it makes."
The research team includes a range of experts from the university's departments of social medicine and child health and from the universities of Cambridge, London and Glasgow. A critical contribution was also made by Professor Steven Blair and his team from the Aerobics Institute in Dallas. . l
Bristol's Professor Ken Fox acknowledges that it could not be done without the Children of the 90s study.
"ALSPAC offers a unique data set of world significance, hence the interest of the Americans who lead the world in prevalence of obesity.
" Early adolescence is a critical period and this type of evidence will allow us to unravel the contribution of physical activity to obesity development and also examine interactions with diet and genetic predisposition."