U.S. to Launch Massive Study Into Children\'s Health

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By synthia on Wed, 01-12-05, 14:38

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U.S. to Launch Massive Study Into Children's Health

HealthDay - December 16, 2004

THURSDAY, Dec. 16 (HealthDayNews) -- Researchers have long wondered about the role environmental factors play in rising rates of childhood ills such as asthma, obesity, autism, learning disabilities and schizophrenia.

The National Children's Study aims to tackle that question as it takes a hard look at what risks kids are exposed to in their environment from the moment they're conceived right through to early adulthood. The goal: To help pinpoint the root causes of many of today's childhood and adult diseases and disorders.

The longest, largest study of children's health and development ever conducted in the United States, it will begin in 2007 under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"While new policies will come of it, this study data will also provide guidance for health-care providers to counsel patients on how to avoid or reduce risks of exposure," said Dr. Peter Scheidt, program office director for the National Children's Study at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The study will monitor an estimated 100,000 children and their families from before birth to age 21, to better understand the link between the environments in which children are raised, and their physical and emotional health and development. The findings are expected to influence the well-being of children for years to come, the researchers said.

But health experts won't have to wait more than two decades to reap benefits from the study, Scheidt said. "Outcomes of pregnancy will be available first -- likely the first findings will be out by 2009 or 2010," he said.

Doctors already know what diseases and conditions are assaulting the nation's children, said Dr. Michael Shannon, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Environmental Health.

"We know quite a bit," Shannon said. "Recent research shows that the development of children's lungs is impaired by their exposure to air pollutants. We're aware of the harmful effects of lead, mercury, arsenic and environmental tobacco smoke in the environment. And then there's the increasing concern, based on experimental data, about phthalates, PDBEs, pesticides and other ubiquitous environmental pollutants."

Other studies have been much smaller in size and scope, capturing just a snapshot of a short period in early life stages. "This study will enable us to look at multiple measures of risk exposure factors that lead to the same disease outcomes," Scheidt said.

That also means being able to gauge the effects of exposure to several chemicals simultaneously, or the interaction between genetic predisposition to a disease and environmental influences.

"For example, we know that 50 percent of schizophrenia cases are determined by genetics, but the other 50 percent stem from environmental causes. By examining those environmental influences, we could potentially prevent half of the cases," explained Scheidt.

Shannon said: "Obesity is attributed not only to changes in the American diet but increased reliance on automobiles, which has reduced the activity level of children. And an estimated 17 percent of American children have a developmental disorder, which is being caused or exacerbated by environmental agents."

The study will be conducted at 96 locations across the country, enrolling at least 250 newborns a year for five years from each site. It will include pregnant women and their partners, couples planning pregnancy, and women who are of childbearing age but aren't planning a pregnancy to track the children born to those women.

"This study is unprecedented, and it will yield a tremendous amount of new information on what agents in the environment affect children, based on the agent, the extent of the exposure, the timing of exposure, the specific susceptibility of the child and even exposure issues in pregnant women," Shannon said.

More information

This U.S. government site has more on the National Children's Study.

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