30,000 Bradford pupils to take part in ‘most important health research study of their generation’ after £7m grant

HEALTH researchers are to break new ground with the launch of a major study capturing the journey from adolescence into adulthood of up to 30,000 Bradford schoolchildren.

The Bradford Institute for Health Research (BIHR), based at the city’s Royal Infirmary, has secured £7m from the Wellcome Trust to deliver the seven-year project, called Age of Wonder.

It will link, and add an extra dimension, to the successful Born in Bradford (BiB) programme – launched in 2007 and now one of the biggest and most exciting health research studies in the world with more than 13,000 children already taking part.

Director of BIHR, Professor John Wright, said: “Young people across Bradford will have this unique opportunity to be part of the most important study of their generation

“They will help us create a detailed picture of every aspect of what it’s like to grow up in Bradford, the youngest city in the UK with almost a third of people aged under 20.

“As they move into adolescence and then adulthood, young people will experience many changes to their bodies their emotions and their social lives. They also enter this period at a time of unparalleled disruption amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we follow these young people from age 13 to 21, our research will give us a window into their world like never before – and our findings will help to shape new ways of improving their physical and mental health.”

The study will see the Age of Wonder research team:

  • Work alongside young people aged 13 – 19 to explore wide-ranging topics – such as physical and mental wellbeing, and health and social inequalities – and capturing information via surveys in school.
  • Collect measurements and biological samples from students in year 9 to give an insight into the physical health of young people in the district, and shape service improvements to tackle systemic health issues such as diabetes and obesity
  • Collaborate with almost 40 secondary schools to embed the research into the curriculum, and to inspire more young people into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, digital technologies and the Arts, as well as create new opportunities for skills building

Working in close partnership with Bradford Council and its Education and Skills team, researchers will begin contacting teachers in the coming weeks to share more information about the project.

They will start collecting data –which will be protected by the very highest levels of confidentiality – from later this month.

Evidence from BiB has already helped to uncover the harm of air pollution, the impact of people’s diet and exercise, how the urban environment affects health, and the early causes of diabetes and heart disease.

It has also been used to develop new treatments and polices to protect children’s health, and raise much-needed, multi-million pound investment into the district.

Age of Wonder will build on this platform and is committed to sharing its findings widely, particularly with Bradford Council and the Department for Education, to improve young people’s health and life chances.

Kersten England, Chief Executive of Bradford Council, said: “The research and findings produced so far by Born in Bradford have been ground-breaking.

“We welcome the launch of the Age of Wonder project which will see BiB work in collaboration alongside the Council and our schools and colleges to focus on adolescence.

“It will allow schools, services and policy makers to better understand young people’s perspectives, measure recovery from the pandemic, and design new targeted interventions to improve the life chances of young people in our district.”

What Bradford young people say about Age of Wonder …

GIVING Bradford’s youth a louder voice at the heart of decision-making, eliminating health inequalities and racism, and building a greener community – these are just some of the outcomes that the new Age of Wonder project can deliver, according to three young people raised in the city.

Amber Whitehead-Stevens, Zukhroof Mussadiq and George Hearson shared their views on life growing up in Europe’s youngest city at the launch of the research study, which will capture the journey from adolescence into adulthood of up to 30,000 Bradford schoolchildren.

For Amber, aged 17, who works as an apprentice at Healthy Minds, the doorway to mental health and wellbeing services across Bradford District and Craven, Age of Wonder has the potential to unlock many barriers that frustrate young people.

“There’s a feeling among young people that they have no influence, no say in being able to solve many of the problems they see and experience first-hand,” she said.

“Creating a Youth Government and even appointing our own Youth Mayor would be something many others and I would like to see this study achieve.

“I also think it is important for current and future generations that more is done to make it easier for people to access the right healthcare in the right setting at the right time. Many people find it difficult to do this, and this only serves to widen health inequalities.”

More support to help young people’s mental health and eradicating racism and all forms of prejudice should be high on the Age of Wonder agenda, according to Zukhroof.

A 20-year-old psychology student at the University of Bradford, currently on placement with the Born in Bradford research team, she said: “For a city that is so rich in diversity and culture, it is sad to still see so much racism in a city of sanctuary like ours.

“Age of Wonder can help bring everyone together in a more harmonious way. There is a huge divide between living in the inner city compared to the outskirts, and it is important that there is a better understanding of the differences, and a greater acceptance of everyone lives here.”

She added: “Promoting good mental health is also a key strand to Age of Wonder. The stress of school life, combined with the stress of COVID-19, is having a real impact on young people and this is a growing issue that is now a priority for our city.”

George, aged 18, is also an apprentice with Healthy Minds and works at a Bradford youth club two nights a week – and this perspective has highlighted the “postcode lottery” that impacted on young people’s health and life chances.

“Depending on where you live, there are inequalities – whether it is pollution and its effects on asthma and other health conditions; or the financial struggles people face through lack of employment opportunities.

“Age of Wonder equips the city with an opportunity to shape and build a healthier, fairer, greener community – as well as remove the stigma and negative stereotyping that it often faces.“I love Bradford, there are lots of really great places and loads of things to see and do. In the main, it’s also a very friendly community. It would be great for Age of Wonder to open people’s eyes to all that it has to offer young people as well.”


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