Growing up close to home
As the second report from the Growing up in New Zealand (Growing Up) longitudinal study is released today, Waikato public health physician and associate director of Growing Up Polly Atatoa-Carr reflects on the importance of the study.
Having been involved in Growing Up from the recruitment stage in 2009, Dr Atatoa-Carr says she feels privileged to be a part of the lives of the families who are taking part.
“I love it. It’s challenging and exciting and I am also really proud of the involvement of families from the Waikato. I think this region brings a real diversity and flavour to the overall picture.”
Not to mention, she has a long relationship with the mighty Waikato.
Dr Atatoa-Carr (pictured) was born in Waikato Hospital, as were her three daughters Mereana (10), Maeva (6) and Arieta (2).
After finishing her schooling at Fairfield College, she gained her Bachelor of Science at Waikato University, and then after completing further study (a Masters in Science, as well as her medical qualifications) in Auckland, she worked in Rotorua Hospital.
It was when her daughter Mereana was born in 2002 that she returned to Hamilton.
Dr Atatoa-Carr’s husband is Cook Island, a culture that is an important part of her and her families’ life. She says the growing diversity in New Zealand is something that is evident with her children and her work.
“Growing Up is the first New Zealand study to provide the depth and breadth of evidence for Maori, Pacific and Asian children, as well as all other children being born in New Zealand today, and we really value that.
“Particularly important is the information from our Maori families, that provides us with an opportunity to contribute to Maori development and achieving equity,” she said.
As a public health physician, Dr Atatoa-Carr is interested in all areas of the report, which looks across the many areas of influence in the lives of the Growing Up participants; from before they were born until they are nine months old.
Dr Atatoa-Carr stresses that the full health and developmental picture for children can’t be gained without looking at the environment in which children and their families live.
“Growing Up is the perfect opportunity to get that broader picture because we have been able to gather a wide range of information about the participating children from their parents before they were even born.”
There is much to be learned from this report, which provides an overview of the Growing Up study so far, and details some issues that are really hot at the moment like breast feeding, smoking and immunisation – and many of the early findings are encouraging.
“The kinds of things that the latest report has informed us of is that the majority of participant children had been immunised – with 95 per cent of babies overall receiving their six-week immunisations, and 94 per cent receiving their immunisations at three months,” said Dr Atatoa-Carr.
“However, by five months of age, overall coverage had dropped to 90 per cent, and this coverage was not the same for all groups within the study. For example, families who had other children, and those who were living in areas of high deprivation, were less likely to be able to immunise their babies.
“These same parents described higher intentions to immunise their children before they were born, than what has been achieved once their children are here.
“While we will continue to follow the immunisation story, what this might be telling us is that not immunising these children is not a choice, but more a system and accessibility issue, and an issue that reflects the reality of life for families in our contemporary society.”
The Growing Up study also found that overall, women managed to reduce smoking rates in pregnancy. However, this latest report shows that of the women who were smoking before their pregnancy, and stopped smoking during pregnancy, around 40 per cent of these women were smoking again once their babies were nine months old.
“That is still too high,” said Dr Atatoa-Carr.
“Perhaps we need to consider whether our smoking cessation messages, targeted for the pregnancy period, are lasting long enough.
“There is definitely more work to be done to find out how better we can support families to quit and therefore reduce second hand smoke exposure for our children.”
The report also produced positive findings around breast feeding, showing that 97 per cent of the families in Growing Up gave breastfeeding a go.
“Close to half of the cohort that were ever breast fed are still being breast fed when they are nine months old, so the breast feeding story is not yet complete,” said Dr Atatoa-Carr.
“This report takes us from pregnancy up until nine months of age. While what we can see here is interesting and exciting, the next big step for us is the interviews with our families when the children are two years old, and then we will see them again when their children are four.
“Each step in this study is integral to the long-term picture.
“It’s so important that this study is able to use the voices of our families taking part to influence policy and programmes for all New Zealand families in the future.
“It’s been a real pleasure getting to this point, we thank all our children and families, and we look forward to catching up with them at the next stage.”
For more information and to read the full report, visit www.growingup.co.nz
About Waikato District Health Board and Health Waikato:
Waikato DHB is responsible for planning, funding and providing quality health and disability support services for the 365,730 people living in the Waikato DHB region. It has an annual turnover of $1.2 billion and employs more than 6000 people.
Health Waikato is the DHB’s main provider of hospital and health services with an annual budget of more than $701 million and 5238 staff. It has six groups across five hospital sites, three primary birthing units, two continuing care facilities and 20 community bases offering a comprehensive range of primary, secondary and tertiary health services.
A wide range of independent providers deliver other Waikato DHB-funded health services - including primary health, pharmacies and community laboratories.