Growing Up’s October 2018 newsletters are out now!

26 October 2018

Domestic fires can affect more than just children’s breathing

18 October 2018

Think again about a wood or coal fire if you have children – especially if your neighbours have domestic fires too.

New analysis of data gathered by the University of Auckland’s Growing Up in New Zealand study has shown that children living in neighbourhoods where there are more wood or coal fire-heated houses may be at greater risk of skin diseases as well as respiratory diseases.

Researcher Dr Hakkan Lai examined data from nearly 3,500 of the more than 6,500 study children and led the analysis with guidance from Professor Cameron Grant, Head of the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

The investigators found that children were more likely to be prescribed respiratory and skin medications if they lived in areas with a larger number of wood or coal fire-heated homes.

And the study found that it was smoke emitted from neighbouring chimneys, rather than from the chimney in the child’s own home, that posed the greatest risk – contributing more to the pollution of air in a child’s home.

“While it’s been known that respiratory diseases may be triggered by wood smoke, the concept that neighbourhoods with high emissions of wood or coal smoke might trigger skin diseases is relatively new to science,” says Dr Lai.  “There have been limited studies about this internationally - around four – and their focus was on indoor wood or coal heating in the child’s own home, rather than their neighbourhood.

“But what we know is that the concentration of smoke tends to be very low below the chimney the smoke has come from, increasing the further you move away from that chimney. If you multiply the height of the chimney by ten and then move that distance horizontally, that’s where the smoke will actually be most concentrated.”

The research found that in their first four years of life, 40% of the children received respiratory medication prescriptions, 71% received skin medication prescriptions and 79% received respiratory and/or skin medication prescriptions during the cooler season. Most of the skin medication prescriptions were for the treatment of atopic dermatitis, or eczema.

The findings suggest that high densities of residential fires could be creating significant health problems for children, particularly as housing density increases.

“It’s crucial for the health of our most vulnerable New Zealanders that we use wood burners responsibly and continue adopting cleaner forms of home heating in New Zealand, such as heat pumps and pellet burners.”


Additional information

How was the research carried out?

- The researchers looked at the longitudinal data gathered by the Growing Up in New Zealand study about the cohort children at different ages (in pregnancy, nine months, two years and four and a half years)

- They reviewed this alongside information from other databases, such as what respiratory and skin medications the children had been prescribed.

- The children’s residential locations were geocoded and linked to information from the 2013 census, including the density of wood or coal heated households.

Combining the different sources of information in this way enabled the researchers to discover the connection between domestic fires and the incidence of skin disease in children.

“The ability to take different datasets and analyse issues like this is a feature of the new research landscape,” says Professor Grant. “We’re able to build a bigger, richer picture to help us answer questions to improve the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.”

How many prescriptions did the children receive in their first four years of life?
The average number of prescriptions dispensed in the children’s first four years of life were:

- For respiratory medications: 6.6

- For skin medications: 10.5

- For respiratory or skin medications: 14.

What are the risks of using wood or coal burners for home heating?

Burning wood, coal, gas, diesel or other materials for home heating releases air pollutants into air.  These include carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, benzene and nitrogen dioxide.
We each breathe about 14,000 litres of air each day so contaminants in outdoor air can adversely affect health; particulate matter can contribute to heart and lung diseases, leading to hospital admissions and premature death. Outdoor air pollution can also cause cancer.

Land Air Water Aotearoa (

Environmental Health Indicators New Zealand (

How many households use wood or coal fires for heating?

Based on 2013 Census data, about a third of New Zealand homes (37%) use wood and coal fires for home heating. This compares to 41% in 2006. Households in the South Island are more likely to use wood or coal fires than those in the North Island. Coal fires tend to be used more in the West Coast and the Waikato.

Environmental Health Indicators New Zealand (

Why are children more vulnerable to environmental pollutants than adults?

The reasons why children are more susceptible to the negative health effects of certain environmental exposures include:

o They eat more food, drink more fluids, breathe more air per kilogram of body weight, and have a larger skin surface in proportion to their body size than adults. This means their exposure to (potentially) harm-causing agents or substances is greater for their size than in adults.

o Children absorb more of some substances (such as lead) from their gut.

o Their organs and body systems are still developing.

o Children's behaviour, such as putting hands and objects in their mouth, as well as their play and exploratory activities, influence their exposure.

Environmental Health Indicators New Zealand (

About Growing Up in New Zealand

Growing Up in New Zealand
is New Zealand’s contemporary and largest longitudinal study of child development.
The University of Auckland study is following a cohort of more than 6,800 children born in 2009 and 2010, starting in pregnancy and continuing until the children are at least 21 years old.
The ethnicity and socio-demographic characteristics of the cohort children are broadly generalisable to those of children being born in New Zealand today and, since 2008, Growing Up has been capturing their unique life stories via a series of data collection waves.
At each data collection wave information is collected across six key areas:

· Health and wellbeing

· Psychosocial and cognitive development

· Education

· Family/whānau

· Culture and identify

· Societal context and neighbourhood environment.

To date, more than 90,000 interviews have been carried out and more than 50 million pieces of data collected. This information, and its analysis, is able to inform policies and programmes that better meet the needs of children and families in New Zealand.

Information from Growing Up in New Zealand has provided insights into a diverse range of areas such as paid parental leave, immunisation, poverty and material hardship, family housing and mobility, household safety, bullying, participation in Early Childhood Education, and pre- and post-natal depression among fathers.


Growing Up in New Zealand releases Transition to school report

14 June 2018

Growing Up in New Zealand has today released its latest study report, Transition to school.

This is the study’s eighth report and summarises findings from Growing Up’s 72 Month Data Collection Wave.

Study Director, Associate Professor Susan Morton, University of Auckland, says this report homes in on the cohort children’s experience of embarking on formal schooling.

“Starting school is an important milestone for every child and their family, and this report gives us some insight into what contributes to making that process more positive or challenging, from the perspective of the cohort parents.”

Dr Morton says it was heartening to learn that generally, the children were ready to start school and settled relatively quickly.

“Most mothers and children adapted to the change and the school routine in less than a month, though we did find that some mothers were still experiencing difficulties six months after their child had started school.”

Some of the reasons mothers gave for still experiencing difficulties included worrying their child wouldn’t make friends, worrying that they wouldn’t like the school, being separated from their child or that the process was new because the child was their oldest.

“But what we also found was that around 90 percent of mothers reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the effect their child’s current school was having on their educational, social, emotional and physical needs.”

For the children, the most common difficulties included adapting to a new routine, being separated from family and getting used to new rules, Dr Morton says.

Other Transition to school findings include:

  • About 25% of the children have experienced a Modern Learning Environment (MLE) within their current school. MLEs feature open, flexible learning spaces and access to technology. Over half have experienced the Milk for Schools[1] programme and 10% have a breakfast club at their school.

  • 77% of the children lived within 5km of their school and, while one in four regularly used forms of active transport such as walking, biking or scootering to and from school, the majority (68%) travelled by car.
  • 88% percent of mothers reported some form of regular (formal or informal) parental involvement in their child’s school.

  • 98% of the children had attended some form of early childhood education in the six months before starting school and had visited their new school before starting.

  • Around 10% of the children moved schools at least once during their first year of primary school. Existing research shows that     moving schools more than twice a year may have a negative impact on children’s learning and behaviour. Moving schools was more common for children who identified as Māori, Pacific or Asian, and for children living in homes in high deprivation areas.
  • 25% of mothers also reported their child had had at least one change in classroom teacher.
  • Around 90% of mothers reported they were satisfied or very satisfied with the effect their child’s current school was having on their educational, social, emotional and physical needs.

Transition to school also reports on other areas, such as how many of the children had completed their Before School Check (B4SC) by the time they started school and what influenced parents’ choice of school for their child. This included the school’s reputation, how the school engaged with the local community, its ability to cater for individual children’s needs and whether it had an anti-bullying policy.

Dr Morton says the findings in this latest report add to the body of knowledge Growing Up in New Zealand has already gathered during the before birth and preschool periods.

“It also lays the platform for later data collection waves as the children transition to adolescence and into adulthood.”

The report was officially released this morning in Wellington.


Final Report Cover

For more information, please contact:

Janine Kendall
Communications Manager, Growing Up in New Zealand
09 923 9750 or 0275 910 979

About Growing Up in New Zealand

  • The University of Auckland and UniServices Ltd Growing Up in New Zealand study has been specifically designed to provide unique information about what shapes children’s early development in the context of 21st century New Zealand and how interventions might be targeted at the earliest opportunity to give every New Zealand child the best start in life.
  • The study provides multidisciplinary, scientifically robust, population-relevant evidence focused on identifying what works to improve the lives of New Zealand children, their families and whānau.
  • The study’s Eight Year Data Collection Wave is currently underway, with the participants now aged eight to nine years old. For the first time, during this Data Collection Wave, the children are speaking for themselves, providing new and unique insights.
  • Growing Up in New Zealand is the largest, most culturally and socio-economically diverse study of children growing up in New Zealand today, enrolling more than 6,800 children in the study before they were even born.

  • Growing Up in New Zealand is led by a multidisciplinary team at the University of Auckland. The contract for the study’s core government funding was managed by Superu until October 2017 and is now managed by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

           The Study Director is Associate Professor Susan Morton of the Department of Population Health at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

  • 2018 marks ten years since the study’s inception.


Who is the Growing Up in New Zealand generation?

The children who comprise the Growing Up in New Zealand cohort were born in 2009 and 2010 (with a ‘Leading Lights’ group born in 2008) and were recruited from within the greater Auckland, Counties Manukau and Waikato District Health Board areas. Children and families generously give their time to the study for free, with face-to-face data collection waves taking place every two to three years.

What is a data collection wave?

A data collection wave involves gathering information from the participant children and families. Growing Up parents were first interviewed before their children were born.

At each data collection wave, information is collected across six key areas:

  • Health and wellbeing
  • Psychosocial and cognitive development
  • Education
  • Family/whānau
  • Culture and identity
  • Societal context and neighbourhood environment.

For each family involved, data collection to date has involved:

  • Eight face-to-face interviews
  • Six telephone interviews 
  • Two web-based interviews


What has the study found out so far?

Information from Growing Up in New Zealand has provided insights into a diverse range of areas such as paid parental leave, immunisation, poverty and material hardship, family housing and mobility, household safety, bullying, participation in Early Childhood Education, and pre- and post-natal depression among fathers.


[1] These programmes are offered to all schools and are funded by the government and private sector.