Release: Rural N.C. county, N.Y. borough kick off largest ever long-term U.S. child health study

Jan 13, 2009

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CHAPEL HILL - In many ways, Duplin County, N.C., and Queens, N.Y., are worlds apart.

Duplin is rural, proudly southern and home to about 50,000 people. Queens is urban, counts immigrants from more than 100 nations among its residents and the number of babies born in the borough each year equals more than half of Duplin's entire population.

But from Tuesday (Jan. 13) onward, the two areas share common ground - as the first two locations to begin enrolling participants in the largest ever long-term study of children's health and development undertaken in the United States.

Duplin and Queens are vanguard locations of the National Children's Study, which will eventually include 100,000 children, following them from before birth until age 21. The U.S. government study will examine the effects of genetic and environmental influences on chronic conditions such as asthma, autism, birth defects, diabetes and obesity. Once fully up and running, it will involve 105 locations throughout the country.

In North Carolina, the study is being overseen by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center. The Mount Sinai School of Medicine directs the project in Queens.

One reason why the two counties were selected to lead off the overall study is because of their differences, said Barbara Entwisle, Ph.D., principal investigator and director of the Carolina Population Center, and Kenan Professor of Sociology in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences.

"One of the study's strengths is that participants will reflect the broad spectrum of America's population," Entwisle said. "Risk factors and responses to them are not the same for everybody.  To understand the risk factors and also the factors leading to good health requires us to study a broad and diverse sample of children, their families and their environments."

The study has opened an office in Duplin County and staff will cover 885 miles of roads in the county, knocking on doors, talking with people and recruiting about half of the women who will give birth in the next five years. Participants will be enlisted from preselected areas within the county, and all women living in those areas will be eligible to participate. 

Researchers will also reach out to the county's Hispanic population. Nearly 40 percent of births in the county are to Hispanic mothers. "To help ensure the study's findings are accurate, we need the help of mothers who may have originally come from outside the United States," Entwisle said. "All will have a part to play in the future of our country."    

There are many ardent supporters in Duplin County. Ila Davis, Duplin County health director and a member of the study's community advisory group, which started in 2006, said: "This is an exciting opportunity for Duplin County where we don't generally get to participate on a national level, to be a part of a study that will have an impact locally and on a national level.

"As health director, I see the negative impact of poverty, obesity, lack of resources for children to participate in physical activity, poverty and limited access to health care on children's health," Davis said. "This study will give us insight into changes that can affect the quality of life for children in Duplin County and the nation."

Another supporter of the initiative is U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, whose district includes Duplin County. "The citizens of North Carolina and the nation will undoubtedly benefit from the National Children's Study," McIntyre said. "As a long-time supporter of this important initiative, I am confident that it will produce great results regarding the health and development of our children, and I am pleased that Duplin County, and the rest of the state of North Carolina, will be an integral part of this process. I look forward to the study's findings and will continue my efforts at the federal level to ensure that the work at Duplin and other sites will be adequately supported." 

In addition to Duplin, the Carolina Population Center will implement the study in five other North Carolina counties. The research team aims to begin enrolling participants in Burke, Durham and Rockingham counties in 2010. In 2011, Cumberland County will begin enrollment; Buncombe County will start enrollment in 2012.

The National Children's Study is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one of the National Institutes of Health. Other members of the consortium carrying out the study are the NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To find out more about the study, go to: or

Note: Entwisle can be reached at (919) 966-1710 or

Carolina Population Center contact: Lori Delaney, (919) 966-4562,
News Services contact: Lisa Katz, (919) 962-2093,

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