As the nation embarks on the largest children’s health study ever undertaken in the United States, Pitt is among the institutions playing a role in collecting data.
The National Children’s Study (NCS), authorized by the Children’s Health Act of 2000, aims to examine the effects of genetic and environmental factors on the growth, health and development of U.S. children by following a representative sample of women through pregnancy and birth, then following their babies through age 21.
The study, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (including the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeks to recruit 100,000 children nationwide. Participants will be recruited from 105 study locations across the United States that collectively make up a “micro-U.S.A.” from a statistical standpoint, based on demographics and expected birth rates.
Pitt is the lead institution for study centers in Westmoreland County, Pa., and in Marion County, W.Va.
The study involves observations — no medications or treatments — although biological and environmental samples will be collected from some participants, said epidemiology professor Jane Cauley, principal investigator for the Pitt study site.
Findings from the study will be released as they become available throughout the course of the study. Current study activities include determining which recruitment approaches may be most feasible and cost-effective.
The Westmoreland County site’s recruiting is based on a direct consumer marketing theory. In fact, students in a Pitt-Greensburg marketing course have been assisting with some of the marketing approaches, Cauley noted, adding that because many of those students are of similar age to the women being recruited, they’ve had some very insightful ideas on how to reach those groups, including using social media.
To reach the local study site’s goal of 1,000 babies, 4,000 women ages 18-49 must be recruited, Cauley said. So far, about 30 pregnant women and 30 women who are trying to become pregnant have enrolled. In addition, there are a large number of women who are not trying to become pregnant, but who have agreed to keep in touch. Given that about 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, some research subjects eventually may be recruited from that group as well, Cauley noted.
While Cauley is responsible for the West Virginia site as well, colleagues at West Virginia University are subcontractors for the research to be conducted in Marion County, which is south of Morgantown. That study site also is seeking to enroll 1,000 babies.
“NCS wants to comprehensively study how we can help children and families be healthy,” Cauley said, noting that the study stands to shed light on many interesting and important health questions.
“Some studies have suggested that the rate of autism spectrum disorders has increased 370 percent from 1980. Attention deficit disorders have increased by approximately 250 percent since 1990. And childhood obesity has tripled from 5 percent in 1980 to about 17 percent currently. Think of those three statistics,” Cauley said.
In addition, she said, “Out of 100 U.S. children right now, seven will develop asthma, 12 will develop ADHD and 17 will be obese. If you add all that up, that’s one-third of U.S. children.”
Locally, the study is being launched at an important time, as Marcellus shale development is expanding. “That’s very topical