But a “novel” research project in Bradford, which begins this week, is set to do exactly that for the very first time, in the hope of unravelling how families in the city and beyond can live happier and healthier lives.
The project, part of the city’s landmark Born in Bradford (BiB) programme, will start when a child is in the womb and follow their data through to adulthood, and purely by examining records that already exist - but together for the first time - hopes to answer unexplained questions relating to the health of people in the city, from whether there are relationships between what happens in pregnancy to children’s future health, to whether children from one area of the city are more likely to get asthma than another area.
Starting in the Wrose area, mothers-to-be will be asked by their midwives at ante-natal appointments to consent to the healthcare records of both themselves and their babies to be gathered. By the end of the year, it will be rolled out to every pregnant woman, and is expected to include 3,600 new mums each year.
BiB programme co-ordinator, Sally Bridges, said: “The new study will unify health, education and social data which will allow researchers to build up a complete picture of the health and wellbeing of mums and their babies across our city.
“Currently, over a person’s lifetime, these records are held separately by a variety of different services, including the likes of GPs, hospitals, health visitors and schools.
“By linking up this information from the woman and child’s records, researchers are able to build up a clearer picture of people’s lives and health, as well as exploring why some children are happy and healthy while others are not. The data will also provide clear direction to policymakers and hopefully help influence their decisions when setting up and planning new services here in Bradford.”
Ms Bridges told the Yorkshire Post that the new approach of getting consent from the outset was a “novel idea” that would bring together records that already exist electronically in a “forward thinking” way that would be highly transferable to city’s across the UK. Other “unexplained questions” researchers hope to answer over the lifetime of the project include those surrounding the prevalence of postnatal depression and what could be done to prevent it occurring.
“We are really ahead of the game here in Bradford,” she said. “There are so many questions that could be answered just by bringing this data together.”
BiB is one of the largest medical studies in the world, and was founded by Professor John Wright in 2007.
Since then, it has followed the lives of more than 9,000 children and gleamed a wealth of medical and social research - from creating the first Yorkshire-wide congenital anomalies register, to discovering the impact of gestational diabetes.
Professor Wright, added: “Our new study will build on this success and invite all mothers and their new born babies to help us find better ways to improve the health of the city.”