Local recruitment begins for the nation's biggest study of children's health

Mother and infant daughter at Sacramento Zoo study launch © UC Regents
Families joined community leaders and UC Davis researchers at the zoo to celebrate the launch of the National Children's Study in Sacramento. The study will follow 1,000 local children from before birth until age 21 to help determine how environmental factors influence health and development.

Posted June 29, 2011

Pregnant women in Sacramento County may now be asked when they visit their doctor’s offices if they would like to enroll their new babies in a major study of children’s health.

The local National Children’s Study was officially launched on June 11 with a celebration at the Sacramento Zoo. Families, child health experts, obstetrician/gynecologists, environmental health specialists and community leaders joined together to announce that recruitment is now under way through women’s health providers.

Part of a landmark national effort

The Sacramento study is part of a landmark national effort that will follow a total of 100,000 children throughout the United States from before birth to age 21 to examine how genetics and environmental factors — from the food they eat and the air they breathe to the medical care they receive — influence health and development. Sacramento was selected as a study site in 2007, with UC Davis researchers chosen to lead data collection.

The celebration gave potential study participants the chance to learn more about eligibility criteria and meet the research team.

“It’s a very significant day for children’s health,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, principal investigator for the National Children’s Study in Sacramento and UC Davis professor of public health sciences. “We have made great strides in recent years in understanding the impact of chemicals like lead, arsenic, mercury, organophosphates and PCBs on childhood health and development. But the scope of this study will vastly expand those efforts.”

Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiologist whose research focuses on identifying the effects of genetics and environmental factors on pregnancy outcomes and early childhood development, added that compounds that have more recently become of interest will be considered as part of the study, including bisphenol A (found in packaging for food and drinks), phthalates (a plastic softener), pyrethroids (used to kill insects like mosquitoes) and polybrominated diphenylethers (flame retardants added to fabric), among others. The study also takes into account maternal health, children’s social networks, neighborhoods, access to medical care and health-related services.

Researcher Irva Hertz-Picciotto © UC Regents“No other study in U.S. history has taken such a comprehensive approach to exposures in everyday life and their connections with specific health outcomes throughout childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.”
— Irva Hertz-Picciotto

“Unlike other studies, which tend to focus on one particular chemical or medical condition, the National Children’s Study seeks to discover how the complex web of relationships and environmental interactions combine with family history to influence children’s health and their risks for a range of diseases and conditions, including asthma, obesity, diabetes, autism, ADHD and neurodevelopmental delays,” said Hertz-Picciotto. “No other study in U.S. history has taken such a comprehensive approach to exposures in everyday life and their connections with specific health outcomes throughout childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.”

Seeking women who are pregnant or hoping to get pregnant

The Sacramento team has enlisted health-care providers to help identify and recruit women between the ages of 18 and 49 who are pregnant — or considering getting pregnant — and who live in specific parts of Sacramento County to participate in the study. Neighborhoods were selected based on national sampling criteria and to ensure the participation of children of different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Women joining the study will provide information through periodic appointments during pregnancy, and their new babies will be evaluated as they grow. Some of those appointments will take place in families’ homes or by telephone to make participation as convenient as possible. Study representatives will gather information about health status and family health history through interviews and questionnaires; collect environmental samples such as air, dust and water; collect biological samples; evaluate medical records; and conduct neurobehavioral assessments.

“I have been practicing medicine for the past 20 years, and I have yet to find a study that has the potential to answer as many important medical questions as the National Children’s Study,” said Thomas Melchione, an obstetrician/gynecologist in private practice in Sacramento who is supporting study recruitment. “The information it provides will supply important clues about multiple health issues and help us better understand why some children reach their potential while others are not as successful. I am certain the study will eventually change the way we live, and the way we raise and provide medical care to our children.”

UC Davis is a national leader in child health research. In addition to a nationally ranked, comprehensive children’s hospital and the UC Davis MIND Institute — a premier center for research on autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions — UC Davis researchers are engaged in several unique, large-scale, population-based studies focused on children’s health. The university is a leader in investigations of pediatric emergency medicine, pediatric obesity and type 2 diabetes, and adolescent development.

“Our ultimate goal is to discover causes and enhance guidelines, treatments and preventions that improve children’s health within our lifetimes and for generations to come,” Hertz-Picciotto said.

About the National Children’s Study

Mother and newborn infant © iStockphotoThe National Children’s Study is the largest, long-term evaluation of children’s health ever in the United States. Authorized by the U.S. Congress with the Children’s Health Act of 2000, the study is led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — including the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institute of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A total of 37 communities throughout the nation currently have been selected to participate, including Sacramento, Calif., where family health and service providers throughout the county are helping to recruit participants. UC Davis toxicologists, women’s health specialists, pediatricians and epidemiologists are leading local data collection and evaluation, with their efforts guided by community leaders and grassroots organizations dedicated to children’s health and well-being.

For more information, visit  www.nationalchildrensstudy.gov or call toll free