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Presenter: Prof Linda Richter, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Presenter: Prof Shane Norris, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
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From the moment of conception, our genetic blueprint starts to adapt to the world we find ourselves in; this increases our fit with our environment and our chances for survival. While we adapt throughout our lives, there is a period of unique susceptibility to environmental influences in what is called the first 1000 days of life (270 days of pregnancy and 365 days in each of year 1 and 2). In South Africa we have been following a large group of children born in 1990, in the weeks following Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in a birth cohort study called Birth to Twenty Plus. These children, are now 26 years old, and we are also following their children, the third generation. We track physical, psychological and social development as well as the changing material and social environment. This gives us unique insight into the processes of adaptation in very early childhood, how they influence health and well being across the life course, and the way in which they influence their offspring’s development. We have linked our data to birth cohort studies in Brazil, Guatemala, India and the Philippines, strengthening conclusions we can draw about life course and life cycle processes.
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Professor Linda Richter (PhD) is a Distinguished Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand and the Director of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) – National Research Foundation (NRF) Centre of Excellence in Human Development. She is also an Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Oxford and an advisor to the World Health Organization in Geneva on early child development. From 2003-2006, she was a Visiting Researcher at the University of Melbourne, from 2007-2010 a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University (USA), and from 2010-2012 she served as Advisor on Vulnerable Children at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Geneva. Linda has conducted both basic and policy research in the fields of child, youth and family development as applied to health, education, welfare and social development, and has published more than 400 papers and chapters in the fields of child, adolescent and family development, infant and child assessment, protein-energy malnutrition, street and working children, and the effects of HIV and AIDS on children and families. She led the recently published Lancet series (2016) Advancing Early Childhood Development: From Science to Scale.
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Shane Norris is a Research Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. He directs the MRC/Wits Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit. He is co-principal investigator, with Linda Richter, of the longitudinal birth cohort study, Birth to Twenty Plus, and the principal investigator of Soweto 1000 Days, a cohort study of pregnancy and the first two years of life. Shane has over 18 years research experience in longitudinal cohort studies and epidemiology. He has published over 250 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and his research expertise and interest includes: (i) maternal and child health, (ii) child nutrition, growth, body composition, and development; and (ii) inter-generational transmission and developmental origins of obesity and metabolic disease risk. Shane sits on several international scientific and policy committees related to the developmental origins of health and disease.