From: Maggie Fox, Reuters
Published September 30, 2005 12:00 AM

Researchers Launch Biggest Study of U.S. Children

WASHINGTON — Researchers hoping to determine the causes of many common diseases like autism and diabetes will follow 100,000 U.S. children from birth through adulthood in the largest ever study of its kind.


"We're looking to find the root causes of many common diseases and disorders. When we do, we'll be in a position to prevent them from ever occurring," said U.S. Surgeon-General Dr. Richard Carmona.


In particular, scientists will try to find out whether there is a link between environment and diseases.


Most studies used now to link environment and disease are retrospective, meaning they rely on a patient's or a parent's recall of events, food eaten, and behaviors. Scientists place much greater faith in studies that look at actual behaviors in real time to more accurately link them to consequences.


"The National Children's Study would follow more than 100,000 children, from before birth -- and, in some cases, even before pregnancy," said Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one of the National Institutes of Health.


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"It would meticulously measure their environmental exposures while tracking their health and development, from infancy through childhood, until age 21," he added.


Researchers will also take samples from the children and their parents to see what chemicals they have actually absorbed into their bodies.


"In the search for environmental influences on human health, and their relationship to genetic constitution, 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 a health care provider, and even the composition of the house dust in their homes," the NICHD said in a statement.


Six centers were named Thursday where the research will begin -- the University of California in Irvine, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


The NIH hopes to eventually get 105 communities involved.


Each team will enroll at least 250 newborns each year for five years beginning in 2007, with initial results available around 2010.


The researchers will look for women who may become pregnant, even those who are not planning to, to see if accidental or unintended exposures or behaviors affect any children they may later have.


"The study might eventually lead to preventions or treatments for many common conditions," Carmona said.


"We now know that one in five schools in America has indoor air quality problems, which affect millions of children who don't even realize it," he added. "The study could help us map how our environments, habits, and activities affect our children's health."


Source: Reuters


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