A study aimed at discovering how the environment – from chemicals in the air to the dirt in backyards – impacts the growth and development of children has reached its first milestone: The birth of its first child participating in Minnesota.
The National Children’s Study, which kicked off in the fall of 2010, will be the largest and longest study of children’s health issues ever conducted in United States history. Researchers will follow 100,000 children across the nation from birth to their 21st birthday. In Minnesota, the School of Public Health will be following a cohort of children in Ramsey County neighborhoods.
Researchers hope they’ll be able to better understand health problems facing children today and subsequently improve health standards by creating new treatments and preventions for common diseases affecting children.
In order to accomplish these goals, researchers are collecting and testing samples from the children, their family and their physical environments. Samples range from umbilical cord blood and urine to dust from vacuums and tap water from faucets.
“You wouldn’t think we can learn much from dust,” said Dr. Patricia McGovern, University of Minnesota professor and lead investigator for the Ramsey County branch. “But dust shows if a home contains mold and other toxins that can cause asthma and allergies in children.”
Ramsey County, which includes the city of St. Paul. was chosen due to its diverse population, McGovern said. Eventually the study will include hundreds of local children throughout 16 randomly selected neighborhoods in Ramsey County.
In January University of Minnesota investigators started recruiting women, ages 18-49 that are pregnant or planning to have a child, to participate in the study. The recruitment process began with mail, phone and in-person interviews to effectively find women, and eventually children, to participate in the study.
The goal of the recruiters is to enroll 100 women by the end of 2011. Researchers are well on their way – so far 50 have signed up.
“By enrolling in this study women are helping us find out what we need to do to keep our children healthy and safe at home, in school and in our community,” McGovern said.
In the coming years researchers will go beyond testing physical and environmental elements of a child’s health and start looking at psychosocial influences. The mental influences of children will include family and friend relationships, social pressure and support systems.
“The NCS will offer medical professionals a vast amount of information that has never been looked at before,” McGovern said. “With this information doctors will be able to prevent disease, create new treatment processes and improve health standards for children all over the country.”