The role of birth cohorts in studies of adult health: the New York women's birth cohort

Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2009 Sep;23(5):431-45. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3016.2009.01061.x.


Epidemiological studies investigating associations between early life factors and adult health are often limited to studying exposures that can be reliably recalled in adulthood or obtained from existing medical records. There are few US studies with detailed data on the pre- and postnatal environment whose study populations are now in adulthood; one exception is the Collaborative Perinatal Project (CPP). We contacted former female participants of the New York site of the CPP who were born from 1959 to 1963 and were prospectively followed for 7 years to examine whether the pre- and postnatal environment is associated with adult health in women 40 years after birth. The New York CPP cohort is particularly diverse; at enrolment, the race/ethnicity distribution of mothers was approximately 30% White, 40% Black and 30% Puerto Rican. Of the 841 eligible women, we successfully traced 375 women (45%) and enrolled 262 women (70% of those traced). Baseline data were available for all eligible women, and we compared those who participated with the remaining cohort (n = 579). Higher family socio-economic status at age 7, availability of maternal social security number, and White race/ethnicity were statistically significantly associated with a higher probability of tracing. Of those traced, race/ethnicity was associated with participation, with Blacks and Puerto Ricans less likely to participate than Whites (OR = 0.5, 95% CI 0.3, 0.8, and OR = 0.5, 95% CI 0.3, 1.0, respectively). In addition, higher weight at 7 years was associated with lower participation (OR = 0.95, 95% CI 0.92, 0.99), but this association was observed only among the non-White participants. None of the other maternal characteristics, infant or early childhood growth measures was associated with participation or with tracing, either overall or within each racial/ethnic subgroup. Daughters' recall of early life factors such as pre-eclampsia (sensitivity = 24%) and birthweight were generally poor, with the latter varying by category of birthweight with the highest sensitivity for the largest babies (81%) and the lowest sensitivity for the smallest babies (54%). These data reinforce the need to rejuvenate existing birth cohorts with prospective data for life course studies of adult health. Understanding the factors that are associated with tracing and participation in these existing cohorts will help in interpreting the validity and generalisability of the findings from these invaluable cohorts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Effect
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Models, Statistical
  • Mothers
  • New York
  • Nuclear Family
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Socioeconomic Factors