Thousand Families Study, Newcastle upon Tyne

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Thousand Families Study was a major epidemiological study, that arose through observations made by Sir James Spence, one of the first ever full-time paediatricians in the United Kingdom, and from 1942, the first holder of a University Chair of Child Health in England.

Epidemiology is the study and analysis of the distribution and determinants of health and disease conditions in defined populations.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom, officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but more commonly known as the UK or Britain, is a sovereign country lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state‍—‌the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.


Prior to the Second World War, Newcastle City Council became increasingly concerned about the high infant mortality rate in the city (in 1939 the rate was 62 per 1000 live births) and asked Spence to undertake a review of all deaths of babies. Spence concluded that the excess infant mortality was due to death from acute infection. Further research was curtailed by the Second World War.

Newcastle upon Tyne City and metropolitan borough in England

Newcastle upon Tyne, commonly known as Newcastle, is a city in Tyne and Wear, North East England, 103 miles (166 km) south of Edinburgh and 277 miles (446 km) north of London on the northern bank of the River Tyne, 8.5 mi (13.7 km) from the North Sea. Newcastle is the most populous city in the North East, and forms the core of the Tyneside conurbation, the eighth most populous urban area in the United Kingdom. Newcastle is a member of the UK Core Cities Group and is a member of the Eurocities network of European cities.

Infant mortality

Infant mortality is the death of young children under the age of 1. This death toll is measured by the infant mortality rate (IMR), which is the number of deaths of children under one year of age per 1000 live births. The under-five mortality rate is also an important statistic, considering the infant mortality rate focuses only on children under one year of age.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

The Start of the Newcastle Thousand Families Study

At the end of the war, the young doctors began to return to take up their former careers. One of those was Fred Miller and in 1946 Spence is reported to have said to him at a weekly departmental meeting "Well Freddie, what are we going to do about all these infections?". [1] So began the Thousand Families Study.

Frederick Miller (paediatrician)

Frederick John William Miller was a British paediatrician, who made critically important contributions in describing tuberculosis in childhood, including the definition of the treatment and control, of the disease. Along with Sir James Spence and Sir Donald Court, Fred Miller were responsible for the formulation of the major epidemiological cohort study called the Newcastle Thousand Families Study. After that the group was called the Newcastle Trio in the medical community.

The study was initially planned for only one year and aimed to confirm the earlier finding that acute infection was the major cause of infant mortality in the city, and in particular identify which factors put infants at a higher risk of such infections. In addition, it also aimed to place the health of the infants within the context of the family.

The study focused on all births in Newcastle in May and June 1947, an actual total of 1142 babies. The medical records of the participants were marked with a red sticker and the study is also popularly known as the Red Spot Study.

Several publications document the study:-
A Thousand Families in Newcastle upon Tyne by James Spence, W S Walton, F J W Miller and S D M Court, OUP, 1954 [This covers the first year of life]

Growing up in Newcastle upon Tyne by F J W Miller, S D M Court, W S Walton and E G Knox, OUP, 1960 [Pre-school years]

The School Years in Newcastle upon Tyne, 1952 - 1962 by F J W Miller, S D M Cour, E G Knox and S Brandon, OUP, 1974.

Ongoing study

The study went on in detail until 1962. After this date follow-ups of some of the participants were conducted when they reached the age of 22 and 33. A major follow-up, with all participants invited, was conducted when the participants reached the age of 50. A range of health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, Helicobacter pylori, depression, telomere length, lung function and teeth were assessed in relation to the data collected at that follow-up and also that collected in previous follow-ups. this resulted in the study being a study of lifecourse epidemiology. The 60th anniversary of the study was marked by an exhibition at Newcastle's Discovery Museum and a civic reception hosted by the mayor of Newcastle. A further follow-up of the study members is being planned.

Cardiovascular disease class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels. CVD includes coronary artery diseases (CAD) such as angina and myocardial infarction. Other CVDs include stroke, heart failure, hypertensive heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, cardiomyopathy, heart arrhythmia, congenital heart disease, valvular heart disease, carditis, aortic aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, thromboembolic disease, and venous thrombosis.

Osteoporosis bone resorption disease characterized by decreased density of normally mineralized bone which results in the thinning of bone tissue and decreased mechanical strength

Osteoporosis is a disease where increased bone weakness increases the risk of a broken bone. It is the most common reason for a broken bone among the elderly. Bones that commonly break include the vertebrae in the spine, the bones of the forearm, and the hip. Until a broken bone occurs there are typically no symptoms. Bones may weaken to such a degree that a break may occur with minor stress or spontaneously. Chronic pain and a decreased ability to carry out normal activities may occur following a broken bone.

<i>Helicobacter pylori</i> Species of bacteria

Helicobacter pylori, previously known as Campylobacter pylori, is a Gram-negative, microaerophilic bacterium usually found in the stomach. It was identified in 1982 by Australian scientists Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who found that it was present in a person with chronic gastritis and gastric ulcers, conditions not previously believed to have a microbial cause. It is also linked to the development of duodenal ulcers and stomach cancer. However, over 80% of individuals infected with the bacterium are asymptomatic, and it may play an important role in the natural stomach ecology.

The records of the 1,000 Families Study are preserved at Tyne & Wear Archives Service. [2]


The study is directed by Dr Mark Pearce of Newcastle University.

Newcastle University university in England, United Kingdom

Newcastle University is a public research university in Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England. The university can trace its origins to a School of Medicine and Surgery, established in 1834, and to the College of Physical Science, founded in 1871. These two colleges came to form one division of the federal University of Durham, with the Durham Colleges forming the other. The Newcastle colleges merged to form King's College in 1937. In 1963, following an Act of Parliament, King's College became the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

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Professor Sir James Calvert Spence, MC & Bar (1892–1954), M.D., D. Sc., F. R. C. P., was a decorated war hero and a paediatrician who was a pioneer in the field of social paediatrics. He was a founding member of the British Paediatric Association.

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