Residents of Durham County, N.C., are encouraged to take part in the largest ever long-term study of children's health and development undertaken in the United States.

Researchers soon will begin enrolling participants in the National Children's Study, which will examine the effects of environmental influences on the health and development of 100,000 children across the United States, following them from before birth until age 21. The goal is to improve the health and well-being of children.

The study is a congressionally funded multi-year project led by a consortium of federal partners, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Durham is one of 30 areas around the country where data collection starts this fall, bringing to 37 the total number of study locations so far. The Durham County arm of the study is managed by the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Collaborators include UNC, Duke University and Battelle Memorial Institute.

"The study will focus on all aspects of the environment," said Barbara Entwisle, Ph.D., Carolina Population Center faculty fellow and principal investigator for the N.C. Study Center, which is coordinating the project in Durham and several other North Carolina counties. "This includes the families children live with and the neighborhoods they live in, as well as the food they eat, the water they drink and the air they breathe. The study team is eager to begin working with families in Durham County, and further extend the central role other counties in North Carolina have played in this landmark study from the beginning."

"The National Children's Study is yet another example of the unique partnerships our local public and private research institutions have formed with federal agencies to address pressing national needs," said U.S. Rep. David Price. "Helping everyone from policymakers to parents assess how we can raise healthier children who in turn will become healthier adults is a worthy goal, and I am proud that the Triangle will have a key role in the study."

The study was launched today at the N.C. Museum of Life and Science in Durham at an event attended by local community members, study researchers, health officials and political representatives. Speakers included Entwisle, who is also interim vice chancellor for research and economic development and Kenan Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences; Gayle Harris, director, Durham County Health Department; N.C. Rep. Henry M. (Mickey) Michaux; and Beau Mills, district director for representative Price.

The study is working with hospitals and health-care clinics in Durham County to enroll eligible women from diverse backgrounds and communities. Women who are pregnant or likely to become pregnant and their families will be invited to participate. Study staff have already been working with community members in the initial phases of implementation and will continue to be active in the community.

The National Children's Study will draw on a wide array of data to explore natural and man-made environmental, biological, genetic and psychosocial factors that have an impact on child health and development. By studying children through their different phases of growth and development, researchers expect to better understand the role these factors have on health and disease. Findings from the study will be made available as the research progresses, making potential benefits known to the public as soon as possible.

Anna Maria Siega-Riz, Ph.D., professor and associate chair of the epidemiology department in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Emmanuel Walter, M.D., professor of pediatrics, Duke University, are co-principal investigators of the Durham County study.

In addition to Durham, the Carolina Population Center is implementing the study in at least four other North Carolina counties. The research team began enrolling participants in Duplin County last year and aims to start enrolling participants in Burke, Cumberland and Rockingham counties in upcoming years.

Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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