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Upon celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Carolina Population Center is presented with the Golden Goose Award for its National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health.

The Golden Goose Award ceremony was held on Thursday, September 22, 2016 at the Library of Congress. In addition to the awardees, approximately 500 guests from Congress, Science Agencies, the science advocacy community, and institutions of higher education were in attendance. Watch the ceremony here. The documentary video (14 minutes) about the Add Health study’s impact and the other two award winning projects is here.

The Golden Goose Award team posted this story: 2016: A Tale of Two Studies: The Adolescent Health Story.

The Golden Goose Award team posted this teaser video (30 seconds) about the study’s importance.

by Alyssa LaFaro – originally posted 3/31/2016

It’s a good day for the Carolina Population Center. On Thursday, March 31, it celebrated its 50th anniversary in Washington, D.C. with a special event. And if surviving five decades isn’t impressive enough, one of its longest running research projects — the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, or Add Health — received the 2016 Golden Goose Award, given to seemingly obscure federally funded research that leads to major breakthroughs in medicine, social behavior, and technological research.

“I am thrilled that Add Health, the Carolina Population Center, and UNC social-behavioral research has been honored with a Golden Goose Award,” Barbara Entwisle, vice chancellor for research and former CPC director, says. “This project exemplifies the best in team science. It reflects the diverse interests of the team that designed it, not in the sense that each has a defined part, but rather in the sense that all perspectives are fully embodied in the whole.”

Talk about good timing.

But that’s the nature of this research. In 1987 — seven years before Add Health — UNC researchers Ronald Rindfuss, Richard Udry, Entwisle, and Peter Bearman won a competitive contract from the National Institutes of Health to design a study on adolescent sexual behavior. Almost immediately, members of Congress and conservative organizations quickly turned this progressive research into a red flag-raising “teen sex study.” It wasn’t until three years later that the team finally submitted a proposal for its American Teenage Study — and won the largest ever issued grant in the social and behavioral sciences for the time.

A few months later, Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan rescinded funding for the project. Not only was NIH forbidden to fund the study, but any future studies of sexual behavior needed to address public health concerns and seek approval from both peer review and ethics boards. NIH was then tasked with funding a “prospective longitudinal study on adolescent health” focused on all behaviors related to their health, not just sexual behavior.

So in 1994, Udry and Bearman, with the addition of Kathleen Mullan Harris, developed Add Health — which NIH’s competitive peer review process found to be the best proposal to meet the goals of the congressionally mandated study. They recruited more than 20,000 adolescents and focused on the social contexts in which they live their lives.

In 1996, the researchers prepared their two-year follow-up interviews with the hope to collect biological specimens including urine and saliva to test for sexually transmitted infections like HIV. The field interviewers contracted to collect the data, though, continually disregarded the study’s protocols, and the samples they sent in were either too small, not maintained at the proper temperature, or kept so long the tests couldn’t be run. The biological data collection was abandoned.

But timing is everything.

Without the samples, the research team needed to continue following up with their adolescent subjects. Because of this, Add Health continues today and is in its fifth wave of interviews with the original study participants, who are now in their 40s.

Not only has the study survived for such a long period of time, but it’s thrived. Researchers have been able to directly observe the adolescent obesity epidemic that began in the mid-1990s. During the project’s first wave from 1994-1995, just 11 percent of adolescents surveyed were obese. Six years later, that percentage doubles to 22 percent. In 2008, 37 percent of participants were obese.

“We know the impact that Add Health has on the scientific community, but to be recognized by members of Congress who see what we are doing has great value is really gratifying,” Harris, the James E. Haar Distinguished Professor of Sociology, adjunct professor of public policy, and Director and PI of Add Health says. “It means that we’re making the scientific—public connection that we hope for.”

The project also purposely oversampled siblings of all types, particularly twins. To learn whether a set of twins was identical or fraternal, researchers collected DNA from a small subset — valuable data that has led to the project’s expanded DNA collection. Today, this two decades of data allows scientists to examine the relationship between the genetic and environmental factors that influence health and behavior.

“The 20 year, and continual, investment by the NIH in Add Health is the reason we are successful,” Harris explains. “And they are investing in basic science. They’re agreeing that what we’re going to learn 20 to 30 years down the road is going to matter. I’ve invested so much of my career in this project, and 10,000 researchers depend on the data that comes out of the study. With the inherent nature of longitudinal studies, it’s a rare occasion to be acknowledged. It’s truly a great honor to be recognized for our hard work.”

The Carolina Population Center works on path-breaking research to address population issues in 85 countries and across the United States, as well as locally in central North Carolina. The center is rich in expertise with 64 faculty fellows, 54 predoctoral and postdoctoral scholars, and a highly skilled staff engaged in more than 50 funded, population-related research projects.

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) is a longitudinal study of a nationally representative sample of adolescents in grades 7-12 in the United States during the 1994-95 school year. Add Health combines longitudinal survey data on respondents’ social, economic, psychological and physical well-being with contextual data on the family, neighborhood, community, school, friendships, peer groups, and romantic relationships, providing unique opportunities to study how social environments and behaviors in adolescence are linked to health and achievement outcomes in young adulthood.

The Golden Goose Award is given each year to a group of researchers who have been recognized for breakthroughs in the development of life-saving medicines and treatments; game-changing social and behavioral insights; and major technological advances related to national security, energy, the environment, communications, and public health. Winners are honored at an award ceremony in Washington, D.C., where members of Congress of both parties speak to the importance of the award and of federal funding of scientific research.