Skip to content


"Girl With Doctor", by Elinor age 5

The BetterStart group have research interests spanning health and development from the perinatal period into adolescence. Our research group includes expertise in public health practice, nutrition, psychology, medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics.

Our diverse research interests reflect the broad range of professions and skills of the group.


  • The South Australian Early Childhood Data Project

    The South Australian Early Childhood Data Project (SA ECDP) commenced in 2009 linking de-identified administrative data for all children born in South Australia from 1999 to 2013. In 2017, we received ethical approval to extend the cohort from 1991 to 2016.  Our goal is to improve services in health, early care and learning, and education to support healthy child development and learning for all children, and for disadvantaged children in particular. The SA ECDP is the most comprehensive early childhood administrative data resource in Australia. It contains information from more than 15 data sources spanning health, education and welfare services.

    The ‘joining’ up of these data across government agencies offers new opportunities for examining a broad range of child health and development outcomes. It is a public good research resource with trans-disciplinary and inter-sectoral research partners in academia and government.

  • Child Health and Development


    • Gestational age and child development
    • Effects of pregnancy complications on children's development
    • Neonatal events and child development

    Growth & Weight

    • Weight gain in early life and child development
    • Sequelae of thinness, overweight and obesity
    • Longer-term effects of growth trajectories
    • Stunting of children <5 years in low-middle income countries


    • Trajectories of diet in toddlerhood on risk factors for cardiovascular disease
    • Food and beverage intake of Indigenous children
    • Role of parenting on children's diets
    • Effects of food advertising
    • Television marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children in Australia: a review of published evidence

    Self-regulation and Executive Function

    • The role of self-regulatory skills (sustained attention, persistence, emotional regulation) in children's health and wellbeing
    • Targeting self-regulation skills for intervention to reduce inequalities in children's educational achievement
    • Systematic review on the effects of self-regulation in children <8 years
    • Temperament, parenting and child development

    Cognitive Ability

    • Effects of poverty on cognitive ability

    Mental Health

    • Screening for mental health problems
    • Predictors of mental health problems

    Child Care

    • The quality, type and time spent in child care and children's cognitive and socio-emotional development at school entry


    • Preschool attendance and health outcomes in childhood and adulthood

    Type 1 Diabetes

    • Identifying perinatal and early life factors contributing to the increasing incidence of type 1 diabetes (T1D)
    • The effect of T1D on future hospitalisations, development and school outcomes

    Child Maltreatment

    • Predicting child maltreatment from characteristics measured in the perinatal period

    Language Acquisition

    • Use of speech recognition technology to examine language development


    • Barriers to childhood immunisation

    Oral Health

    • Oral health in Aboriginal children and their families (the Baby Teeth Talk trial)
    • Effects of anaesthesia for dental procedures on child development
    • Inequalities in oral health

    Health Care Utilisation

    • Appropriate definitions for Potentially Preventable Hospitalisations (PPHs) in children
    • Descriptive epidemiology of PPHs
    • Frequent presenters to the hospital system
  • Interventions


    • Improving identification of vulnerable families eligible for intensive family support programs
    • Examining the potential screening accuracy of information obtained from parents for the purpose of identifying children who have teacher-reported mental health problems when they enter school
    • Developing a Clinical Support Measure to aid the clinical assessments made by nurses at Child and Family Health services (CaFHS) and enable them to better direct mothers to appropriate CaFHS services
    • Characteristics of mothers who do not receive the Universal Contact Visit (an intervention during the first four weeks after birth), and their children's later health and development
    • Can linked data help to better target family support programs for child health and development?


    • Comparing the effectiveness of a nurse led group-based internet intervention when infants were aged 0-6 months versus standard care (a pragmatic preference randomised trial conducted in collaboration with Child and Family Health Services)
    • Watch a short video on eMums: Engaging clients in the virtual space

    Time Investments

    • How parents of different socioeconomic position invest towards their children's health and development from 0-13 years


    • School-based interventions to improve healthy behaviours such as diet, physical activity and hand washing, and reduce multiple risk behaviours
  • Equity and Human Capability Formation


      • Jurisdictional differences in child vulnerability
      • Can higher quality child care reduce school readiness gaps for children from lower income families?
      • Inequalities in Indigenous health from infancy
      • Decomposition of factors that contribute to inequality in child development in low-to-middle income countries
      • Simulation of early childhood interventions to reduce inequalities in the development of children from low-to-middle income countries
      • Five by Five- A supporting systems framework for Child Health and Development

      Human Capability Formation

      • Role of cognitive versus "non-cognitive" (e.g. attention, self-regulation and executive function) factors in academic achievement
      • The Excel set of spreadsheets containing the data used in the following systematic review is available here:
        Smithers LG, Sawyer ACP, Chittleborough CR, Davies NM, Davey Smith G, Lynch JW. A systematic review and meta-analysis of effects of early life non-cognitive skills on academic, psychosocial, cognitive and health outcomes. Nature Human Behavior.  Published online 05 November 2018 and now also in print (Volume 2, pp 867-880). The paper is available here and the supplementary material is available here.
      • Timing and types of investments to improve children's life chances
      • The quality, type and time spent in child care and children's cognitive and socio-emotional development at school entry
    • Innovative Epidemiological Methods

      Causal Modelling

      • Application of potential outcomes (counterfactual) models
      • G-computation, marginal structural models, effect decomposition

      Mediation Analysis

      • Causal effect decomposition
      • Multiple mediators

      Simulating Interventions

      • Using estimates from trials in combination with observational cohort data to simulate the effect of interventions to reduce inequalities and improve children's health and development

      Risk Prediction

      • Prediction of poor child health and development outcomes from characteristics measured in the perinatal period

      Multiple Imputation

      • Multiple imputation for missing data (due to various mechanisms) including chained equations and multivariate normal methods
      • Developing novel imputation methods for skewed data

      Use of Linked Data

      • Properly accounting for uncertainty (i.e. potential linkage error) in linked data
      • Identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status in linked datasets
      • The South Australian Early Childhood Health and Development Data Linkage Project

      Random Effects Modelling

      • Random effects modelling for longitudinal data, geographically clustered data and mixed memberships

      Pragmatic Trials

      • Interventions using a pragmatic approach to establish effectiveness in the 'real world'

      Cross-cohort Comparisons

      • Triangulating evidence across different social and economic contexts

      Quasi-experimental Work

      • Propensity score matching
    • Translation
      • Monitoring framework for South Australia's children and youth
      • Characteristics of boys and girls who are emotionally vulnerable
      • Television marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children in Australia: a review of published evidence
      • Five by Five- A supporting systems framework for Child Health and Development
      • The South Australian Early Childhood Data Project
      • Can linked data help to better target family support programs for child health and development?

    If you have any interest in our research projects, please email us at

    Interested in undertaking a postgraduate research degree with us?We offer exciting opportunities for researchers at the honours, masters and PhD levels. Our research degrees are open to students from a broad range of backgrounds, and range from basic sciences to clinical research. If you are interested in human health, consider furthering your research career with us.

    BetterStart Research Group

    Level 9, Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences Building
    Corner of North Terrace and George Street
    Adelaide SA 5000


    T: +61 8 8313 2160

    Find Us Online

    Health Sciences on Flickr   Health Sciences on YouTube   Subscribe to our News & Events RSS