First Look

UWI Researchers Unveil Powerful Findings on Jamaican Kids & Families from IDB-funded 7yr Study

0 | 2018-05-31 11:10:00

9700 Jamaican families enrolled in study

Data on fathers’ impact on child development collected for the first time

The UWI JA KIDS Birth Cohort Study Research Team will host a conference at the University of the West Indies from May 31 to June 1 to share ground-breaking findings from their seven-year investigation of Jamaican children and their families. JA KIDS, The Jamaican Birth Cohort Study, is a comprehensive exploration of child health and development in 21st century Jamaica.  It is Jamaica’s second birth cohort study and includes every baby born between July 1, 2011 and September 30, 2011.

Jamaica’s first birth cohort study took place in 1986 and had significant impact on various policies, programmes and interventions for children, especially in the health sector. For example, findings from the study lead to the development of referral high-risk clinics run by visiting obstetricians, the modernization of Registrar General’s Department and improvement of cross-sectoral services for children from birth to 6 years. Children from the 1986 cohort were last contacted at age 22 to identify birth factors that influence adult disorders such as hypertension and diabetes.  Despite its successes, the 1986 study was undertaken prior to the widespread expansion in knowledge of the impact of the early childhood years on development and therefore did not collect detailed data on this period.  Such factors are now deemed critical to childhood, national and human development. Consequently, some 25 years after the first birth cohort study, JA KIDS was launched to add new dimensions to the knowledge of Jamaican children and families, including detailed developmental and behavioural evaluations on children in the early years.

JA KIDS aims to improve the health and well-being of Jamaica’s children by obtaining current and detailed information on factors that influence health, disease and social and emotional development in young children. The identification of these factors will enable Jamaica to build on its existing strengths and to target interventions to mitigate risks in populations where they are identified. The study is also likely to inform regional and international policy and practice as many Caribbean countries and other developing nations, which do not have the capacity to implement longitudinal studies of this nature, are likely to find the information generated relevant to their own societies.

To date, JA KIDS has enrolled over 9700 families in the study.  The research team has collected a tremendous amount of valuable data on the relationships among a wide range of family, school, community, environmental and individual variables in the early childhood years.  Participants were recruited while pregnant during March to September 2011 and at the birth of their child at hospitals across the island. Subsequently, contact was made via telephone with parents when their children were 9 – 12 months and face-to-face when the children were 18 – 22 months and then 4 – 5 years old.  At each contact, parents are asked questions about their health and well-being, their child’s growth and development, the child’s environment, nutrition and parental practices.  In the face-to-face contacts, children participated in assessments of their development, school readiness and behaviour.

The JA KIDS Research Team has also conducted special investigations on a variety of topics relevant to the Jamaican context.  These include an examination of the role of fathers in child development, the outcomes for newborns admitted to hospital shortly after birth and the levels of PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls), OC (Organochlorine) pesticides, and six heavy metals (lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, manganese, and aluminium) in the cord-blood obtained from JA KIDS newborns.

It is expected that findings from the JA KIDS study will benefit Jamaica by providing the health, education, social and academic sectors with information from which to develop national policies and programmes to ensure the best possible outcomes for our children and families.  As the study’s Principal Investigator, Prof. Maureen Samms-Vaughan emphasises: “Our JA KIDS children and families have allowed us to understand so much about parenting children in modern Jamaica.  We owe it to them and to all our children to use this information well.”

Analysis of the data already collected in the JA KIDS study will provide information on maternal health and well-being; pregnancy; paternal well-being and involvement; children's status at birth and at various points thereafter; and children's experiences and growth in the early years. According to Dr. Tomlin Paul, Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies: “The JA KIDS study is an ideal example of the University delivering on its mission.  As we make interventions aimed at improving the lives of our people, we are giving priority to understanding the factors which affect how our children grow and develop.  This is an investment which we expect to reap long lasting returns to the population.”

The establishment of the JA KIDS cohort was funded primarily through a grant from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Bank has remained a strong supporter of the study over the years.  General Manager for the IDB’s Caribbean Country Department, Therese Turner—Jones, says the Bank has been happy to partner with JA KIDS over the past seven years, since “it aligns with our vision to improve lives by creating vibrant sustainable economies where people are safe productive and happy.” She added that, “Looking ahead, the IDB anticipates that these ground-breaking data and analyses will lead to innovation in how Jamaican children are treated from birth to adolescence. It is our hope that it improves parenting (for example understanding that boys and girls develop differently), education and overall child and maternal health.”

The powerful findings from the study will be presented at the JA KIDS Conference and Exhibition - “Growing Up in Jamaica: The First Five Years” at the Faculty of Medical Sciences Teaching and Research Complex at the University of the West Indies, Mona.  Conference panels and discussions will be focussed on child health and development, child nutrition, children’s exposure to violence, parenting and the policy implications of the study. The conference will also host international guest speakers from the University of Bristol and the University of Oxford who will discuss issues surrounding fatherhood and lessons learned from cohort studies around the world.  There will also be special events for JA KIDS participants throughout the duration of the conference.

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