Tāmaki Innovation Campus


Susan Morton
Professor Susan Morton

Professor Susan Morton has been recognised in the New Year Honours list 2019 as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services in epidemiology and public health research.

She is the public face of the iconic contemporary longitudinal study of New Zealand children and families (Growing Up in New Zealand) since its inception in 2005.

The study follows the development of 6853 children (born in 2009-2010) growing up in the context of their families and the NZ environment. Her team engages with multiple government agencies to provide evidence to inform cross-sectoral policies to improve population wellbeing and solutions to reduce inequities in life course outcomes.

The eight-year data collection wave has just been completed in the field and key findings from longitudinal analyses will be released at the beginning of 2020 as a result.  As the study progresses, it becomes ever more illuminating, she says. Some earlier results have already contributed to government policy changes aimed at improving the environments and welfare of New Zealand children.

“For instance, the changes to paid parental leave, and to the environment children grow up in (housing and rental properties residential WOF) has drawn on the cohort information and we’re privileged to have had significant input there,” she says.

“At eight years we have heard from the children directly, about who they are and their aspirations for the future. In the early years parents provided information about themselves and their children, and now the children are speaking for themselves. Their contribution of the families to the research is invaluable and it is important that they are seeing tangible results from their participation and input.”

Dr Morton says the most recent wave of information also throws up some unexpected statistics, with two children in every three having experienced as least one residential move since they were born. Initial theory held that the families would become more settled once the children reached school age, but 12% of the children shifted schools within their first primary school year.

Approximately half the cohort live in rental properties, and this proportion has remained stable over the first 7 years of the children’s lives.  “This,” she says, “raises concerns for providing appropriate services and supports to the increasingly mobile generation, for the quality, safety and availability of housing and for continuity of care with regard to health and education for example.”

This generation are digital natives and screen time is almost ubiquitous. Managing screen time and content viewed with rules and boundaries is however a way to mitigate some of the negative impacts that have previously been associated with screen time.

Dr Morton is embracing the upcoming move to the City campus with enthusiasm. “We will be more connected to our colleagues throughout the University, and importantly, to our medical colleagues, so that Population Health is more integrated and visible for the medical undergraduates.”