Study hopes to follow area children for two decades. How has COVID-19 changed the plan?


PUBLIC SOURCE - A community-partnered study to find out what works to help children thrive,  the Pittsburgh Study plans to follow 20,000 children in the region from birth to adulthood, putting a microscope on the relationships and resources that influence outcomes, such as infant mortality, childhood obesity, youth violence, and asthma prevalence, among others.

Just as the study planned to start recruitment and enrollment, the pandemic’s arrival created complications, said its co-director Elizabeth Miller, BCHS faculty and chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at Pitt Medicine. “Our early-childhood collaborative, for example, was all set to start enrolling during that first week in March, when we were like, is it safe to do that?”

Although researchers paused recruiting, Miller noted that the unique structure of the study allowed some aspects of it to continue during the pandemic. “This is an initiative built on reciprocity that our community members are actively involved in the science,” she said. “So we really shifted to reaching out to our community members and saying, what help do you need right now?”

Miller and the rest of the study team at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh started working with their partners to organize deliveries of resources like food and baby formula to community members who needed help at the beginning of the pandemic. Then, in early April, they launched the Family Strength Survey — a six-minute anonymous questionnaire that helped assess families’ abilities to meet certain needs during the pandemic. “We asked our families questions like, ‘How well do you think you’re doing in terms of meeting your child’s need for emotional health?’ and what resources they were tapping into to meet those needs,” Miller said.

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