The Aboriginal Birth Cohort Study (ABC) is the largest and longest running Indigenous birth cohort in Australia. Commencing in 1987, it has been following the health of Indigenous people in their place of residence across the Top End. Indigenous Australians fare worse than other Australians on almost every measure of physical and mental health. Compared with non-Indigenous Australians, Indigenous people are more likely to have chronic disease (such as obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease and circulatory problems) occurring at an earlier age, leading to premature mortality and influencing the lower life expectancies in Indigenous people. Babies born to Indigenous women weigh on average almost 200 g less than those born to non-Indigenous women and are twice as likely to be low birthweight (LBW) (< 2500 g). In 1987, the Indigenous LBW rate (13%) in the Northern Territory (NT) was approximately double that of non- Indigenous births. Casual observation suggested that there were high numbers of fetal growth-restricted babies (FGR) delivered to Indigenous women, but difficulties in obtaining reliable gestational ages and conducting long-term follow-up meant the prevalence and outcomes of these Indigenous FGR babies were unknown. These factors led to the commencement of a prospective Aboriginal Birth Cohort study (ABC) to study the antecedents, prevalence and 10-year outcomes of FGR. With evidence linking LBW/FGR to chronic adult diseases being reported, the study was further extended to a life course study. The study’s aim is to investigate the hypothesis that the high rates of chronic non-communicable diseases seen in this population were the result of processes that began in utero and continued after birth (Developmental Origins of Health and Disease hypothesis).

The ABC study is partnered with the Top End Cohort (TEC) study, a prospective, life course study of non-Indigenous people living in the Top End, NT, Australia.


Study name  Aboriginal Birth Cohort study
Study abbreviation  ABC Study
Current principal investigator/s  A/Prof Gurmeet Singh, Prof Wendy Hoy, Prof James McFarlane, Prof Markus Juonala, Dr Katja Pahkala, Ms Heather D’Antoine, Mr Craig Allen, Dr Marita Hefler. Founder late A/Prof Susan Sayers.
Current project manager/s  Belinda Davison
Phone  +61 8 8946 8544
Major funding sources  NHMRC
Study website
Key reference

 Sayers, S. M., Mackerras, D., & Singh, G. R. (2017). Cohort profile: the Australian Aboriginal Birth Cohort (ABC) study. International journal of epidemiology46(5), 1383-1383f. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw291

Study focus

The core objective of this prospective study is to examine the effect of early life events and conditions on later health. It is based on the principle that susceptibility to poorer health in adulthood is a dynamic process that begins in utero and continues over the life course.

Our hypothesis is that the nutritional mismatch between prenatal and adult life predicts chronic non-communicable (metabolic, renal, respiratory, cardiovascular and mental) disease risk in young adult Aboriginal people.

Sampling frame  Babies were eligible for enrolment in the study if they were live born singletons delivered at the Royal Darwin Hospital, NT Australia, between January 1987 and March 1990 to a mother who was recorded as Aboriginal in the Delivery Suite Register. 
Year commenced  1987
Intergenerational?  Data available
Imaging Yes
Linkage No
Biosamples? Yes


Wave Year Age (mean, range) Eligible sample
1  1987-1990 Birth 686
2 1998-2001 11.4 (range 8-14) 570
3 2006-2008 18.4 (range 16-20) 469
4 2013-2015 25.4 (range 23-28) 459