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The Head or Heart Study

Enrichment of early infant feeding is now recommended globally, based on trials over the past three decades, which have demonstrated improvements to early brain development.

However, long-term follow-up of these trials has not been possible since many participants cannot be contacted (e.g. only 12% of participants were followed-up by the age of 15 years in one trial).

Expected long-term benefits of enrichment for cognition are not yet proven and the balance between potential cognitive benefits and metabolic harms (e.g. obesity) has not been examined.

How the research helps

The information from this study will be used to determine whether the potential benefits of enriched infant nutrition outweigh any potential harms. This is an important question, because nutrient enriched formulas are used by parents around the globe with little to no data available on their effect on health and brain development in adolescence and adulthood.


The research 

The Head or Heart Study aims to find out whether there are any long-term benefits or harms of nutrient enriched formulas for babies.

We will go back to 11 old randomised controlled trials on enriched baby formulas and link them with the participants’ anonymised data on school achievement (e.g. school assessment scores) to assess the effects of enriched infant diets on brain development.

We will also use linked anonymised health data to find out whether there were side-effects to the enriched diets, such as weight gain and cardiovascular problems, in adolescence and adulthood.


The data

The research makes use of the following pseudonymised data sets:

  • National Pupil Database (NPD) collects details on pupils’ results/attainment and background characteristics
  • Hospital episode statistics (HES) collect information from English secondary care such as admission diagnoses and operation codes
  • The 11 historical randomised controlled trials were conducted in the 1980’s and 1990’s in England and Scotland by researchers from London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. Diets included: Nutrient enriched preterm formulas, LCPUFA fortification, nucleotide fortification, iron fortification and triglyceride fortification.

Further information and links 

You can contact the researcher Maximiliane Verfuerden (m.verfuerden@ucl.ac.uk) if you have any questions about the study or believe you may have been a participant in any of the trials and if you have any suggestions or wish to opt-out of this current study.

More information about the study can also be found at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ich/research/population-policy-practice/research/studies/head-heart-study/index.html


The people involved 

Maximiliane Verfuerden, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health

Prof Ruth Gilbert, ADRC-E and UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health

Prof Mary Fewtrell, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health

Prof John Jerrim, UCL Institute of Education

Dr Katie Harron, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Kathy Kennedy, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health


Page last updated: 11/12/2017