Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes

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Utah State University is partnering with the University of Utah and institutions from across the nation to launch the initiative, called Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO), to follow children from the womb into childhood. This comprehensive investigation will combine existing Utah studies with those of other populations from across the country, expanding on longstanding collaborations between the University of Utah, Primary Childrens Hospital, Utah State University and hundreds of Utah families. What is currently called the Utah Childrens Project started as part of the National Childrens Study in 2009, and was in danger of terminating after NIH began shutting down that national study in 2012. Since then, local donors, participating families, and the University of Utah Department of Pediatrics, who see the value of the research, have been providing support to continue Utahs portion of the program. The new funding from the National Institutes of Health ECHO initiative will allow us to continue working with children and families who were in the National Children Study and follow their health and education trajectory.

Experiences during sensitive developmental windows, including around the time of conception, later in pregnancy, and during infancy and early childhood, can have long-lasting effects on the health of children. These experiences encompass a broad range of exposures, from air pollution and chemicals in our neighborhoods, to societal factors such as stress, to individual behaviors like sleep and diet. They may act through any number of biological processes, for example changes in the expression of genes or development of the immune system.

This project along with 35 other research programs will enroll more than 50,000 children from diverse racial, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds from across the U.S. Researchers will analyze existing data as well as follow study participants over time to address the early environmental origins of designated health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, autism, asthma, and premature birth. These investigations will help define some of the factors that contribute to health and disease, identify markers for early detection, and potentially methods for treatment and prevention.

We are currently in the process of re-enrolling participants from the National Childrens Study into the new study and collecting new assessment information. The Center for Persons with Disabilities site of the National Childrens Study, here in Cache Valley, enrolled more families than any other site in the country.