Cache County's research site for the National Children's Study enters a new phase

Apr 24, 2012
The NCS float at the USU Homecoming Parade
The study used public events and media to raise awareness and encourage participation. Here is co-principal investigator Vonda Jump at the USU Homecoming Parade. Photo courtesy of Ben Goodson.

Children are not small adults…they are little individuals who have unique differences that make them very vulnerable to disease and other health problems.

That is why the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development initiated the National Children’s Study, a long-term research project seeking to determine how the chemical, biological, physical, emotional and social environments in which children live impact their health and development.

Researchers in Cache County are involved in an early, pilot phase of the study. The nationwide study’s main push is expected to begin within the next two years.

“Children born today are the first generation at risk of being less healthy than their parents,” said Dr. Mark Innocenti, Director of the Research and Evaluation Division of the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. Dr. Innocenti is also a Senior Investigator at the Cache County Study location. Utah State University has been working in partnership with the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Utah to run the study in Cache County.  

It is all part of the longest research study on children’s health and development ever attempted in the United States.  The data is critical to understanding children’s exposures from the moment they are conceived, researchers say.  Children today are born into a changing environment, with more chemical hazards and poorer air quality than ever before.  The United States is experiencing an epidemic of children’s diseases and disorders that are costing billions of dollars in health care.

 
A goat wears an NCS t-shirt.
Photo courtesy of Ben Goodson.

Children are especially vulnerable to environmental exposures. Infants spend more time on the ground than adults, putting them at greater risk for contracting germs as they crawl and put things in their mouths; they have underdeveloped immune systems, putting them at risk for many illnesses; they have immature means to detoxify and protect their bodies.

Cache County is one of 40 sites across the country chosen to pilot the initial recruitment stages of the NCS.  USU study staff began recruiting participants in December of 2010.  When the initial recruitment phase ended in March of this year, 800 Cache County women had been enrolled, representing over 10% of the entire number recruited by all of the 40 sites. 

The approach taken in Cache County included using the media and special events to raise awareness and encourage people to participate. The recruitment phase is closed now, on hold until the main National Children’s Study begins. But investigators will continue collecting data on the county’s study participants for the next 20 years or so.

The pilot study’s role is to do more than collect data. It also helps researchers determine the most effective—and cost-effective—ways to gather and use it. These efforts should help the main study meet its goal of following 100,000 children across the U.S. from before birth until age 21.

The study focuses on women who plan to become pregnant or are in the early stages of their pregnancy.  Investigators will examine factors like family health history, genetics, neighborhoods and schools, chemical exposures, air quality, water quality, food, as well as children’s daily activities, social and behavioral environments to pinpoint factors associated with many of today’s major childhood diseases and disorders.

Through blood and urine samples, dust and air samples, questionnaires about foods, health practices, and exposure to pesticides and pets, researchers will be able to determine not only which aspects of the environment are harmful, but also which are harmless or beneficial to children’s health and development.

One of the important aspects of the study is that the data will be housed in a secure, national database, where it will be accessible for analysis by scientists the world over. It will inform policymakers as they seek to improve the health and development of children. Findings from the study will be made available to the public as the research progresses so that improvements can be immediately initiated to the quality of life for America’s children. 

Understanding childhood conditions like asthma, obesity, diabetes, and birth defects, as well as pregnancy-related outcomes are just some of the worthwhile goals of the Study.  These findings will benefit all Americans by providing researchers, health care providers, and public health officials with the information they need to develop prevention strategies and child health policy guidelines.

Note: The Salt Lake City and Cache County study sites will continue operating and collecting data from their respective participants for the duration of the National Children’s Study. However, the contract for the NCS Vanguard site in Salt Lake City recently changed from the University of Utah to a private research company.  The Cache County study and the Salt Lake study operate under separate contracts, both of which fall under the National Children’s Study umbrella. 

 

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