Human development is shaped by the physical and human environment at all stages of life, so life course research is vital for improving health and wellbeing outcomes. What is the future of life course research in New Zealand? How can we all contribute and be involved? Where is this research heading?  These questions will be addressed at a major symposium He Ora te Whakapiri: Unleashing the potential of New Zealand’s life course research this week in Wellington. The conference will be opened by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, at Te Papa on 18 October.

Hosted by the three health and wellbeing National Science Challenges, A Better Start, Healthier Lives and Ageing Well, this symposium brings together leading thinkers about life course research from New Zealand and overseas, and serves to create new synergies to apply innovative research to help New Zealanders live healthy and successful lives. “Life course research takes researchers out of their comfort zones. It brings together people from disciplines that rarely meet. The goal is to generate new questions and new ways of asking questions about key stages in our lives from birth to our later years,” says A Better Start Director Professor Wayne Cutfield. The conference aims to achieve a discussion on improving the health and wellbeing of people from birth to old age and support better lives and brighter futures for the country, and how a life course approach can help us to better understand the impact of events and experiences during important periods of our lives. “Taking a life course approach is about more than just producing academic outputs. Life course findings are used to inform policy and practice in Aotearoa,” says another of the organisers Dr Reremoana (Moana) Theodore, from Ageing Well National Science Challenge and a co-Director of the National Centre for Lifecourse Research.

Life course research helps us understand the impact of events on our health throughout our life journey. That knowledge should be able to help inform policy and practice so that individuals, whānau and communities can steer a course to more healthy lives.Healthier Lives Director Professor Jim Mann notes that the symposium will reveal that research also needs to focus on adults and intergenerational effects. Professor Mann will chair a session of future directions of life course that will include research from Professor Rod Jackson of the University of Auckland that has also potentially identified reversible factors in adult life. “Life course research to date has identified many determinants of health outcomes.   I hope that discussions at the symposium will clarify which of these warrant translation into interventions which can be tested and translated into actions most likely to improve the health of all New Zealanders.” Keynote speakers include Professor Janeen Baxter, Director of the Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course, University of Queensland, whose research focus is on the impact of intergenerational transfer of inequality, and Professor Richie Poulton, Director of the National Centre for Life course Research, University of Otago, who leads the Dunedin Study, New Zealand’s longest running longitudinal health and development study. Follow the conference at twitter #lifecoursenz; For more information:  http://lifecourse.nz/