European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 1–15 | Cite as

What have birth cohort studies asked about genetic, pre- and perinatal exposures and child and adolescent onset mental health outcomes? A systematic review

  • Lucy Thompson
  • Jeremy Kemp
  • Philip WilsonEmail author
  • Rachel Pritchett
  • Helen Minnis
  • Louise Toms-Whittle
  • Christine Puckering
  • James Law
  • Christopher Gillberg


Increased understanding of early neurobehavioural development is needed to prevent, identify, and treat childhood psychopathology most effectively at the earliest possible stage. Prospective birth cohorts can elucidate the association of genes, environment, and their interactions with neurobehavioural development. We conducted a systematic review of the birth cohort literature. On the basis of internet searches and 6,248 peer-reviewed references, 105 longitudinal epidemiological studies were identified. Twenty studies met inclusion criteria (prospectively recruited, population-based cohort studies, including at least one assessment before the end of the perinatal period and at least one assessment of behaviour, temperament/personality, neuropsychiatric or psychiatric status before 19 years of age), and their methodologies were reviewed in full. Whilst the birth cohort studies did examine some aspects of behaviour and neurodevelopment, observations in the early months and years were rare. Furthermore, aspects of sampling method, sample size, data collection, design, and breadth and depth of measurement in some studies made research questions about neurodevelopment difficult to answer. Existing birth cohort studies have yielded limited information on how pre- and perinatal factors and early neurodevelopment relate to child psychopathology. Further epidemiological research is required with a specific focus on early neurodevelopment. Studies are needed which include the measures of early childhood psychopathology and involve long-term follow-up.


Epidemiology Child development Longitudinal studies Mental health Perinatal 



Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder


Autism spectrum conditions


Conduct disorder


Oppositional defiant disorder



Philip Wilson’s research career award in infant mental health was funded by the Scottish Government Health Department Chief Scientist Office. Financial support for this project was provided by Greater Glasgow NHS Board Primary Care Division Research and Development Directorate. The support of the Scottish ABCD study core group and the birth cohort study research teams who provided information for this paper is gratefully acknowledged. Special thanks to Jon Heron for providing detailed documentation on the ALSPAC study and Emma Lidstone for helping to gather information for this paper.

Conflict of interest statement

We have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

787_2009_45_MOESM1_ESM.doc (521 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 521 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucy Thompson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jeremy Kemp
    • 1
  • Philip Wilson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rachel Pritchett
    • 1
  • Helen Minnis
    • 1
    • 2
  • Louise Toms-Whittle
    • 3
  • Christine Puckering
    • 1
    • 2
  • James Law
    • 4
  • Christopher Gillberg
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Community Based Sciences, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  2. 2.Department of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryNHS Greater Glasgow and ClydeGlasgowUK
  3. 3.Faculty of Dentistry and MedicineUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  4. 4.Centre for Integrated Healthcare ResearchQueen Margaret University EdinburghEdinburghUK

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