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Life course epidemiology: recognising the importance of adolescence
  1. Russell M Viner1,
  2. David Ross2,
  3. Rebecca Hardy3,
  4. Diana Kuh3,
  5. Christine Power1,
  6. Anne Johnson4,
  7. Kaye Wellings2,
  8. Jim McCambridge2,
  9. Tim J Cole1,
  10. Yvonne Kelly4,
  11. G David Batty4
  1. 1UCL Institute of Child Health, London, UK
  2. 2London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  3. 3MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at University College London, London, UK
  4. 4Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Russell M Viner, UCL Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford St. London WC1N 1EH, UK; r.viner{at}

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Life course epidemiology may be conceptualised as “the study of long term effects on later health or disease risk of physical or social exposures during gestation, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and later adult life.”1 Adolescence, the period between childhood and adulthood defined by the WHO as 10–19 years, has an uneasy status in epidemiology. On the one hand, adolescents, who now number over 1.2 billion worldwide—around 20% of the global population—are highly visible in population-based studies. Young people's behaviours have been an important subject of epidemiological inquiry, from tobacco and alcohol use to violence and sexual activity. Yet, concepts of adolescence as a discrete stage in the life course have been much less discussed within epidemiology. This is particularly so in studies of the developmental origins of adult health and disease, which have focused on the influence on adult health outcomes of exposures from the period of rapid physiological change in very early life. Similarly, investigators in the field of the social determinants of health and disease have concentrated their efforts on the effects of parenting and education in early childhood.

With the aim of developing our understanding of the place of adolescence in a life course framework, in May 2013, we organised a joint workshop between UCL and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

After infancy, adolescence is the period of greatest and most rapid development

Studies of the biological embedding of early life experiences have focused largely on prenatal or infant life, and have led to the understanding that periods of rapid organ system development during these phases of life are critical to adult health.1 Yet, adolescence is second only to fetal and infant life …

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