Sign Out: The National Children's Study: A new window on child health

September 1, 2005

Ob/gyns often ask me vague questions about "that large study at NICHD." They want to know if it will be like the old "Collaborative Perinatal Project." Have we chosen the sites? How can they participate? Clearly many physicians and health-care providers either have never heard of the National Children's Study (NCS) or do not know much about it. I hope this column will help change that so the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) can have all the support we need to successfully launch this study. And I welcome your participation in this landmark research endeavor.

The NCS is a long-term, longitudinal study of environmental influences on children's health and development. It has been actively planned since 2000, when the Children's Health Act authorized NICHD's director to collaboratively "...conduct a national longitudinal study of environmental influences (including physical, chemical, biological, and psychosocial) on children's health and development" along with other federal agencies, including the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

We ultimately plan to follow 100,000 children from prenatal development through birth, childhood, and into adulthood-to at least age 21. The NCS should provide a wealth of information that could help improve care from preconception on. In addition, it may give us critical insights into the impact of in utero exposure on neonatal, infant, and adult disease. The study also will be a rich databank upon which to base development of prevention strategies, health and safety guidelines, educational approaches, and possibly new treatments and cures for health conditions.

The critical first step in implementation of this massive study is launch of Phase 1 of the NCS, which is scheduled for this fall in up to eight "Vanguard" sites out of an eventual 101 total sites. The locations roughly correspond to US counties or, in rural areas, clusters of counties. They were chosen through a rigorous national probability selection method to ensure that children across the nation are fairly represented. Successful implementation will depend on the input and support of entire communities, and input from both the medical and social communities is critical. We expect to have preliminary results on pregnancy outcomes from the first years of the study in 2010 or 2011.

The children enrolled in NCS will represent the face of America's youth. What we learn about their health and their environments will impact the well-being of all of our children-and our country-for years to come. Because the study is so broad, it's likely that at some point, you will be asked to participate in some fashion, as a researcher, health-care provider, or a relative. So, please take the time to familiarize yourself with what's going on with the NCS by visiting http:// http://www.NationalChildrensStudy.gov/.