19 January 2023
Children are much more vulnerable to health-damaging features of the environment in and around their homes and schools than adults. This can include air pollution, overcrowding, fast food advertising near schools, and lack of access to greenspaces. Children who are exposed to these environmental factors are at greater risk of developing long-term conditions such as asthma or mental health problems, and not doing so well in school.
The government is introducing policies to improve local environments and housing, partly as a way to slow and mitigate the effects of climate change. There are also changes in the social environment around where children live and go to school, due to austerity policies and the Covid-19 pandemic, including closure of libraries, childcare providers and high street shops.
In this project, the team plans to set up a new national data resource that will allow researchers to examine how local physical and social environments influence children’s health and schooling across England.
The Kids’ Environment and Health Cohort project is led by University College London, in collaboration with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and City, University of London. This is in partnership with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), working with NHS Digital and the Department for Education.
This project aims to set up a national database containing de-identified data from schools, hospitals and community pharmacies, on health and education histories for all children born in England from 2006 onwards - around 11 million children. This data will be linked to information about their mothers’ health during pregnancy as well as data on local environments in and around children’s homes and schools.
The project involves linking the following datasets:
- ONS birth and death registration data
- Census 2011 and 2021 data (for children born within two years of each Census)
- Hospital Episode Statistics, which contains data on hospital contacts
- Maternity Services Data, which holds data on maternal health during pregnancy
- Mental Health Dataset, which holds information on referrals to mental health services
- Community Dispensing Data, which holds information on dispensed medicines, including for asthma
- National Pupil Database, which holds data on all children in state school, including special educational needs provision and exam results
- Personal Demographic Service (NHS address records) and Getting Information About Schools Data (school addresses). These will be used by the ONS to link data on the local environment to children’s data.
A number of environmental datasets about small areas across England, on air pollution, energy efficiency of buildings, and proximity to major roads, will be linked to the de-identified health and education data.
The data will be linked subject to approvals from the Confidentiality Advisory Group, the ONS, NHS Digital and the Department for Education.
Potential of the newly linked data
The newly linked data resource will open opportunities for research that can inform government departments and local councils, as well as the public at large, about how changing local environments impact children’s health and education. It will also enable new insights into how well housing, environmental and planning policies are working to improve children’s lives.
In order to demonstrate how the Kids’ Environment and Health Cohort can be used, the team will carry out a research project to examine:
- links between local greenspace coverage and access and mental health in young people
- links between the availability and quality of local childcare provision and primary education attainment.
Key questions these newly linked datasets can address include:
- Do children with better access to public parks or other greenspaces have better outcomes in school?
- Are children with asthma who grow up in highly insulated but less ventilated homes at risk of developing worse asthma symptoms?
- Is exposure to extreme heat or heatwaves during pregnancy linked to babies being born prematurely?
- Is going to school near gambling outlets linked to worse mental health in young people?
- For children with complex chronic conditions such as autism, epilepsy or cystic fibrosis, does living or going to school near traffic-heavy roads increase the risk of being admitted to hospital?
The project team will work with parents, children and young people to develop the Kids’ Environment and Health Cohort. To date, they have worked with the Young People’s Advisory Group and the Parents’ and Carers’ Advisory Group at Great Ormond Street Hospital but are looking forward to engaging with many other groups as the project develops.
The Kids’ Environment and Health Cohort will be made available to external researchers by the ONS Secure Research Service. Accredited researchers will need to submit a successful application to access the data via the ONS Secure Research Service. Researchers will not be able to access the whole dataset at once and will need to justify which parts of the data they need to answer their research questions. Researchers can also supply external, environmental data to the ONS who will link these to the child health and education data using methods that protect children’s identities, subject to project approval.
Project lead: Dr Pia Hardelid
Funded value: £933,400
Duration: December 2022 – November 2025
This project is funded via the ADR UK research-ready data and access fund, a dedicated fund for commissioning research using newly linked administrative data. Funding decisions were based on advice from an independent expert panel, and in consultation with the Office for National Statistics. This project is part of the ADR England portfolio.
Details of the funding grant awarded by ADR UK to UCL for this project can also be found on the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Gateway to Research platform (please note some details have changed since the GTR listing was published).