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Marianne Lønnebotn: Preparing for Parenthood Already in Childhood

PhD Candidate Marianne Lønnebotn is using data from large, long-term health surveys with information that extends over several generations to study how factors such as being overweight can affect the respiratory health of respondents’ offspring.

Body Silhouettes
Photo:
Marianne Lønnebotn

Large Health Surveys – data treasure-troves

The 3 surveys Lønnebotn used are the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS), Respiratory Health in Northern Europe (RHINE), and Respiratory Health in Northern Europe, Switzerland, Spain and Australia (RHINESSA). The surveys have many thousands of respondents and cover nearly 40, nearly 30, and over 20 years of data, respectively, collected in several waves. In the longest study series, the data are collected retrospectively from over 4 generations. (See the respective Survey webpages for more information)

 

Evaluating an epidemiological tool for use in self-reporting

To access body-weight information about respondents and their parents from before the study period, the researchers used a “body silhouette” tool. Lønnebotn’s first paper involved validating the respondents’ accuracy when using the tool to self-report their previous weight.

Lønnebotn included in the study persons who had used the “body silhouette” tool in ECRHS III or RHINE III to report the way they looked back in time, at ages 30 or 45. These persons were aged 30 or 45 years when they participated in previous study phases (ECRHS I or II, RHINE II), so that they had had their height and weight measured (ECRHS) or self- reported (RHINE) at those ages. The self-reported silhouette indicating degree of obesity for both men and women correlated with the weight actually measured or self-reported 9-23 years previously. The results indicate that the body silhouette tool is a useful epidemiological tool. It can be used to provide researchers with reliable retrospective data about study participants’ previous obese / non-obese status.

 

What life period carries the greatest potential risk for asthma in the next generation?

Once having established the reliability of the body silhouette tool, researchers were then able to focus on respondents’ degree of obesity or non-obesity at specific periods in their lives: childhood, adolescence and adulthood, to study whether a specific age was particularly relevant for the risk of asthma in their offspring.

Lønnebotn’s second paper shared the results of this work, where there was a strong association between when both the mother and / or father had been overweight in childhood and whether their offspring were overweight in childhood. What was unexpected was that they found a strong effect for fathers’ overweight onset in puberty and the risk of non-allergic asthma in their offspring.

strong effect for fathers’ overweight onset in puberty and the risk of non-allergic asthma in their offspring

The results of Lønnebotn’s studies show that factors long before conception may increase the risk for asthma in offspring. Male puberty seems to be a time window of particular importance for the health of future offspring.