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Largest Study of U.S. Children Readies for Launch

22 new centers now added, first participants set to join next year, officials say

THURSDAY, Oct. 4 (HealthDay News) -- The largest study ever of the impact of environment and genes on the health of American children will be directed from 22 new centers across the United States, organizers said in a special news conference held Thursday.

The first participants enrolled in the National Children's Study should be recruited as early as next year, they added.

The effort -- a collaboration by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency -- plans to follow 100,000 children from before birth to the age of 21.

"These new centers join seven vanguard centers established in 2005," Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said during a morning teleconference Thursday. "We anticipate a total of 25 to 40 centers in 105 locations," he said. "This will provide a sample of the diverse population of children in the United States."

When under way, the study will concentrate on a wide range of conditions, including pregnancy-related problems, such as birth defects and premature birth, and other problems such as autism, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, mental health and learning disorders, Alexander noted.

The study isn't just about child health, he added.

"There is mounting evidence that the health habits and exposures of early childhood, perhaps starting before birth, affect the health and well-being of adults as well as children," Alexander said.

The National Children's Study began in 2000. Funding for the seven vanguard centers and the 22 centers added today comes from $69 million approved by Congress for the project in 2007, according to Peter Scheidt, director of the National Children's Study. This year, organizers are hoping to have another $110 million earmarked for the study. Scheidt stressed that if Congress fails to fund the study in any given year, the study will be shut down.

If funds are forthcoming, the recruitment of study participants from the vanguard sites will begin in 2008, Scheidt said, and at the other sites in 2009.

"All study centers will attempt to recruit 250 women each year who are pregnant or likely to have a child," Scheidt said.

The first study results should start coming in within two to three years after the study gets going, Scheidt said. According to the organizers, results will continue to be released as participating children reach important developmental milestones.

Some of the 22 sites approved today include: Brown University, Providence, R.I.; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; Northwestern University, Chicago; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Hawaii at Manoa; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio.

More information

For more on the study, visit the National Children's Study.

SOURCES: Oct. 4, 2007, teleconference with Duane Alexander, M.D., director, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Peter Scheidt, M.D., M.P.H., director, National Children's Study

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