Research Findings and Impacts
Gravida is responsible for significant discoveries and translation activities that impact the lives of people in and overseas:
- Our studies have shown that women who eat a high-fat diet during pregnancy have children who are fatter prior to puberty, and who also tend to start puberty at an earlier age. Importantly, this effect is transmitted to subsequent generations.
- We have shown that moderate exercise during pregnancy may have a positive effect on the babies of overweight and obese mothers. This provides a potentially important intervention for numerous overweight and obese women in NZ and overseas, who are more likely to give birth to larger babies, who in turn are more likely to develop obesity and diabetes in later life.
- Our research provided the first evidence that poor sheep maternal nutrition around the time of conception leads to preterm birth - findings that have since been reported in several human populations. The importance of the pre- and peri-conceptional period for a healthy pregnancy outcome has been introduced into the pregnancy guidelines of many developed countries, including .
- We were the first in the world to show that infants born prematurely or after a prolonged gestation are at greater risk of developing obesity and diabetes later in life. Of note, pre-term and post-term infants make up 7–9% of all live births in .
- We have produced the only experimental evidence demonstrating that twin conception results in a different developmental profile from that in singletons, resulting in an altered post-natal phenotype including increased adult adiposity. Together with European collaborators, we have shown that this is regulated by modification of genes.
- We were the first to show that children born following in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) are different phenotypically, hormonally, and biochemically.
- We also lead the world in understanding the components of fertility treatment that have long-term effects in the growth and well-being of IVF children. In , IVF children make up 2-4% of all live births.
- Gravida-funded PhD students showed that feeding ewes at reduced levels in early pregnancy produces daughters with increased milk production; this is reflected in faster growth rates of the next generation lambs, demonstrating the long-term effects on animal productivity.
- Research investigating the breeding age and dietary needs of pregnant ewes could help farmers increase ewe productivity through earlier breeding (at 8 months rather than the traditional 18 months) and better targeted feeding regimens to increase lamb numbers and produce healthier, heavier lambs.
Gravida outreach activities are making a difference to people’s lives in and overseas:
- Gravida leads the way in novel programmes to improve scientific literacy in school children. More than 200 schools across have participated in LENScience programmes which have reached over 40,000 students. These outstanding programmes communicate our research findings, such as the effect of diet and lifestyle on life-long health. We primarily target children attending low-decile schools, focusing particularly on nutrition, diabetes, obesity and pregnancy.
- The work of LENScience has led to behavioural changes not only among the students, but also in their families.
- The unique approach of our LENScience programmes has gained international recognition. Initiatives based on the LENScience model are now underway in the UK and are being developed in the Pacific, Ireland, Jamaica, Chile, Brazil and Singapore.
- Gravida researchers have produced a best practice book for all farmers.
- A multi-disciplinary Gravida research team from social science, education, and agriculture demonstrated the use of networks to disseminate findings of a herb pasture science trial. The 16 participating farmers disseminated the findings to their own networks of over 300 farmers, as well as to the extended farming sector.
- Gravida-funded projects increasingly reach the national consciousness through the media, creating a new-found public awareness on issues related to nutrition and the importance of events prior to, and during, pregnancy to long-term health. Examples include several cover stories in North & South magazine and the reporting of our research findings in national and international newspapers, radio and television.
- Gravida researchers are recognised for their contributions to science. For example, Professor Christine Winterbourn was awarded the 2011 Royal Society of ’s prestigious Rutherford Medal and was honoured in the Jubilee Honours List, becoming a Companion of the Order of Merit. Professor Gluckman received the Royal Society of ’s inaugural Callaghan Medal for his outstanding contribution to science communication.
- Together with international partners and the Institute for Economic Research, Gravida researchers assess the economic impact of a healthy start to life in both developed and developing countries. This research will ensure policy decisions are based on sound economic assessments of potential interventions.
Gravida members are influencing government policies at national and international levels:
- Gravida provides direct advice to the government. Founder and former director of the Gravida, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, is the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser. Other members contribute to Ministry of Health working groups such as the National Maternity Standards, and national health policy groups such as the NZ Growth Hormone Committee, and the Health Research Council’s Biomedical Science Committee.
- Gravida researchers have submitted of papers on child health and education to the government, for example, Dr Susan Morton (Director of the Growing Up in NZ programme) and Jacquie Bay (Director of the LENScience programme).
- Gravida researchers lead national and international societies. For example, Associate Professor Frank Bloomfield is President of the Perinatal Society of and President of the Perinatal Society of Australia and . These societies promote evidence-based improvements in perinatal care and advocate for policy change at national level.
- At an international level, Gravida researchers inform policy decisions of global organisations. Recent examples include a position paper presented by Gravida’s Director, Professor Philip Baker, on maternal and child health to the G8 summit. Gravida researchers contributed to a government paper presented at the 2010 United Nations high-level meeting on prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. They also drafted an executive briefing paper to the Gates Foundation.
- In addition to the wider impact of our research through the translation and communication of our findings, Gravida researchers have published many books and more than 1,300 articles in academic journals. Of these, more than 700 articles have been the direct result of Gravida-funded research, and 40% involved international collaboration.