The National Children's Study: a 21-year prospective study of 100,000 American children
Prospective, multiyear epidemiologic studies have proven to be highly effective in discovering preventable risk factors for chronic disease. Investigations such as the Framingham Heart Study have produced blueprints for disease prevention and saved millions of lives and billions of dollars. To discover preventable environmental risk factors for disease in children, the US Congress directed the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, through the Children's Health Act of 2000, to conduct the National Children's Study. The National Children's Study is hypothesis-driven and will seek information on environmental risks and individual susceptibility factors for asthma, birth defects, dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, schizophrenia, and obesity, as well as for adverse birth outcomes. It will be conducted in a nationally representative, prospective cohort of 100,000 US-born children. Children will be followed from conception to 21 years of age. Environmental exposures (chemical, physical, biological, and psychosocial) will be assessed repeatedly during pregnancy and throughout childhood in children's homes, schools, and communities. Chemical assays will be performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and banks of biological and environmental samples will be established for future analyses. Genetic material will be collected on each mother and child and banked to permit study of gene-environment interactions. Recruitment is scheduled to begin in 2007 at 7 Vanguard Sites and will extend to 105 sites across the United States. The National Children's Study will generate multiple satellite studies that explore methodologic issues, etiologic questions, and potential interventions. It will provide training for the next generation of researchers and practitioners in environmental pediatrics and will link to planned and ongoing prospective birth cohort studies in other nations. Data from the National Children's Study will guide development of a comprehensive blueprint for disease prevention in children.