UNC is one of six sites nationwide to start study on environment's effects on children; Duplin County to be UNC's study location

Sep 29, 2005

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has selected the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as one of six institutions nationwide – and the only institution in the South – to kick off an unprecedented effort examining the effects of environmental, social, behavioral, biological and community factors on U.S. children’s development.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health and Carolina Population Center will lead UNC’s efforts. Duplin County was chosen as UNC’s study location for the initial phase of the National Children’s Study. These first, or “vanguard,” sites will initiate the study and work out the final protocol that will be used nationwide.

The other institutions and vanguard sites announced September 29, 2005, in Washington, D.C., are:

  • The University of California at Irvine, for the study location of Orange County, Calif.;
  • Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, for the study location of Queens County, N.Y.;
  • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, for the study location of Montgomery County, Pa.;
  • The University of Utah at Salt Lake City, for the study location of Salt Lake County, Utah; and
  • The University of Wisconsin at Madison, for the study location of Waukesha County, Wis.

The full National Children’s Study would follow a representative sample of children from early life through adulthood, seeking information to prevent and treat such health problems as autism, birth defects, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

“This is a very ambitious study,” said Dr. Nancy Dole, deputy director of the Carolina Population Center, and co-principal investigator of the study. “It’s important to start with a few sites so we can get the details worked out, then implement the study uniformly throughout the country. We’re excited about being a part of the initiation of this project that has the potential to improve and protect the lives and health of children.”

Other N.C. counties that have been chose to join the study later are Buncombe, Burke, Cumberland, Durham, Gaston and Rockingham.

“We are excited about the challenges that lie ahead for us,” said Dr. David Savitz, professor of epidemiology at UNC’s School of Public Health and a fellow at the Carolina Population Center. “Duplin is a rural county with about 51,000 residents, so we will be working with a large portion of the people there.

“We’ll be working closely with community organizations and health-care providers serving the area. Our hope is that we will be able to provide services and information that Duplin residents will find useful and bring increased attention to this community that helps to improve the health of their children.”

Dr. Savitz and Dr. Barbara Entwisle, director of the Carolina Population Center and professor of sociology, will be the principal investigators along with other UNC researchers, and collaborators at Duke University and Battelle Memorial Institute.  They will survey the population to identify women who are pregnant or who are of childbearing age. They hope to enroll 250 women in Duplin County a year for five years for study participation. The contract will begin in October, with plans to start enrolling women in July 2007.

The goal of the study is to identify some 100,000 children at more than 100 sites nationwide as early as possible during their mothers’ pregnancy. By tracking the health and development of these children throughout their childhood, the study will provide researchers, public health officials, health-care providers, educators and others who work with children with a resource of data from which to develop prevention strategies, health and safety guidelines, educational approaches, and possibly new treatments and cures for health conditions.

National Children’s Study researchers plan to examine such factors as the food children eat, the air they breathe, their schools and neighborhoods, their frequency of visits to health-care providers and even the composition of the dust in their homes. Study scientists also plan to gather biological samples from both parents and children for analysis concerning exposure to environmental factors.

 By design, the selected locations are geographically distributed and demographically varied, according to the NICHD. By including families from varied backgrounds and family structures, the study can better investigate issues of vital interest to many communities, officials said.

The Children’s Health Act of 2000 authorized the NICHD and a consortium of federal agencies to conduct the National Children’s Study. The planned National Children’s Study is led by a consortium of federal agency partners: the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (including the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

   The NICHD is part of the NIH, the biomedical research arm of the federal government and an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation.

For more information on the study, please visit www.nationalchildrensstudy.gov.

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