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U.S. launches study of children's health



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Nov. 17--Women of childbearing age in Westmoreland County will be asked to participate in a ground-breaking examination of the effects of environmental, genetic, social and physical influences on the health and development of more than 100,000 children.

The National Children's Study, mandated by the Children's Health Act of 2000 and led by the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency, will recruit and enroll participants in 96 locations over the next four years and track them from conception through their children's 21st year.

The projected cost is $2.7 billion -- a little more than $100 million a year. Its goal is to develop information that can be used to answer questions about children's health and development, and that will form the basis of child health guidance, intervention and policy for future generations.

Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said the study announced today is "the most ambitious attempt ever undertaken to understand the role that the environment plays in children's health."

The study, which begins next year, will examine an array of health factors influencing children's lives, including family genetics, neighborhoods where children live and the schools they attend, chemical exposures linked to the air, food and water supplies and the social environment.

"From the water we drink and the air we breathe to the food we eat, it is important to know how environmental factors impact the health of our children," said Paul Gilman, EPA assistant administrator for research and development. "Only a study of this size and scope holds the promise of shaping the care of children for the next century."

Westmoreland County and the other 95 locations were selected randomly from more than 3,000 "sampling unit" locations, and include rural, small metropolitan and large metropolitan areas. Other study locations in Pennsylvania include Philadelphia and Schuylkill counties.

The study's directors will begin collecting applications from regional centers -- county health departments, hospitals, schools of public health -- to administer the study.

Dr. Peter Scheidt, director of the study at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., said centers administering the study will solicit representative volunteers by screening households to identify women of childbearing age. Enrollment will include pregnant women and their partners, couples planning pregnancies and women of child-bearing age but not planning a pregnancy.

"The family know more about their child's growth, development and health than those who are not participating," Scheidt said.

Participants will receive a small stipend to cover the costs of their participation.

Those enrolled in the study will participate in a minimum of 15 in-person visits with local research teams, starting with the first trimester of pregnancy through 21 years of age. Seven of the visits will be in participants' homes and eight will be in clinical settings.

Scheidt said the cost of the study over 25 years will not be cheap, but the potential economic benefits of the information gained will be far greater.

"The study will be considering a broad range of health influences," Scheidt said, "and we may be able to determine how to control obesity or asthma, or answer questions about preventing premature births or birth defects."

The long-awaited announcement of the study's start was endorsed by 45 health and health-advocacy organizations that also urged Congress to provide the funding to carry it to completion. Among those organizations are the American Pediatric Association, American Chemistry Council, Catholic Health Initiative, Easter Seals, March of Dimes, National Black Child Development Institute, National Center for Learning Disabilities, Spina Bifida Association of America and United Cerebral Palsy.

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