The University of Minnesota has been awarded nearly $14 million dollars over five years to be a lead study center in the National Children’s Study to assess the effects of environmental and genetic factors on child and human health in the United States. The study center will manage local participant recruitment and data collection in the largest and most comprehensive study of child and human health ever conducted in the United States.
The University is one of 22 new study centers of the National Children’s Study, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (including the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“What we learn will help not only children and families in Minnesota, but will help children across the country,” said Pat McGovern, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., principal investigator at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “Findings from the study will provide critically important information for child health researchers, health care providers, public health practitioners, and policy makers working to improve the health and quality of life for children nationwide.”
The National Children’s Study eventually will follow a representative sample of 100,000 children from before birth to age 21, seeking information to prevent and treat some of the nation’s most pressing health problems, including asthma, autism, birth defects, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. This is the first time a study will have documented exposures prior to and during pregnancy, and followed the children after birth.
University of Minnesota researchers will be responsible for enrolling participants with the end goal of collecting data for at least 21 years from 1,000 Ramsey County children. Initially, participants will include three distinct groups: pregnant women and their partners, couples planning pregnancy, and women who are of childbearing age but are not planning a pregnancy. By collecting information from parents before conception and during pregnancy, about their children’s health at various ages and stages of growth, as well as information about the environments in which they live, researchers hope to identify factors that influence health and development as children grow.
The University of Minnesota was selected as a study center because of its reputation as a national leader in child health research. School of Public Health researchers bring a depth of experience in maternal and child health, health disparities, environmental determinants on health, and health policy. Additionally, the School of Public Health is nationally known for its ability to successfully conduct longitudinal studies. McGovern, professor of Environmental Health Sciences, is an expert in occupational and environmental health policy. Her research addresses topics such as women’s health in association with childbirth, their use of family medical leave policies, violence prevention and control efforts, and environmental justice.
The University of Minnesota’s research team has developed partnerships with the Saint Paul – Ramsey County Department of Public Health, the National Opinion Research Center, HealthPartners Research Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, and Medica for the duration of the National Children’s Study. They are also working to develop partnerships with hospitals providing childbirth-related services to Ramsey County residents. These partnerships will be essential in identifying and reaching out to Ramsey County residents recruited to participate in the longitudinal study.
“The selection of Ramsey County as a site for the National Children’s Study will significantly benefit the county’s policy development and delivery of public health services,” said Rob Fulton, Saint Paul – Ramsey County Public Health director. “The findings from the study will help us build policy capacity as a public health department with the responsibility for community, family, and children’s health. The public health department will work collaboratively with the School of Public Health and other partners to make the study a success. The department places great emphasis on the health of the county’s populations and the role played by research in supporting the development of effective policy strategies for healthy families and communities.”
The University of Minnesota has also recruited Twin Cities’ community members to serve on the local Children’s National Study Community Advisory Board. This group is charged with making connections with identified community leaders in Ramsey County who will help promote the study among their residents.
In total, the study will be conducted in 105 previously designated study locations across the United States that together are representative of the entire U. S. population. A national probability sample was used to select the counties in the study, which took into account factors including race and ethnicity, income, education level, number of births, and number of babies born with low birth weights.
The National Children’s Study began in response to the Children’s Health Act of 2000, when Congress directed the NICHD and other federal agencies to undertake a national, long-term study of children’s health and development in relation to environmental exposures.