The Newcastle Thousand Families Birth Cohort

From May 1947
Project Leader(s): Dr Mark Pearce
Contact: Dr Mark Pearce (
Sponsors: Current follow-up phase: JGW Patterson Foundation, Breathe North, Action on Hearing Loss, Breath North Appeal

The Thousand Families birth cohort is a longitudinal epidemiology study that began in 1947 and remains under follow-up.  Although it began as a study of health in infancy, it has evolved over the years into what is now a study considering health in the seventh decade of life. 

Planning for the study began in the 1930’s when Newcastle had a high infant mortality rate compared to the rest of the UK.  Professor Sir James Spence identified that the reason was acute infections and set up the Thousand Families study to investigate the risk factors for such infections. 

The start of the study was delayed by the Second World War, but got underway in May 1947 when recruitment began for a one-year study of health in infancy, with the setting of the infant in the context of the family of particular consideration. 

Spence’s team recruited all 1142 babies born to mothers resident within the city of Newcastle Upon Tyne in May and June 1947 and began to collect detailed information on these children and their familial environment.  Red spots were placed on their medical records to ensure that health information was passed on to the study team whenever it was updated.  For this reason, the study members became know as ‘the red spots’.  Although originally planned for just one year, the study continued throughout childhood prospectively collecting a wide range of detailed information on these children, initially up to age 15.

Further smaller-scale follow ups took place at ages 22 and 32, before a full-scale follow-up of the cohort took place at age 50.  Two further follow-ups of parts of the cohort took place at age 54 (a study of endothelial function) and in 2005 the women in the cohort who had taken part at age 50 were asked for permission to access their mammography films and to complete a questionnaire concerning lifetime exposure to oestrogens.  A further full-scale follow up took place at age 62-63 years. 

The latest follow-up of the NTFS resulted in large amounts of information on each individual to add to the existing extensive body of data. In addition to lifecourse modelling of health outcome data (including liver, respiratory and thyroid function, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, periodontal disease, cognitive function, hearing, fatigue, psychological well-being and biomarkers of ageing) this work will also involve assessing changes in health status between the ages of 50 and 62 years in relation to changes in other markers of health status and lifestyle factors over the same time period.

(0191) 282 1353


Kay Mann
Research Assistant/PhD student

Professor Mark Pearce
Professor of Applied Epidemiology

Emma Thompson
Research Secretary