U to assist national children’s study

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Unprecedented in scope, the study will spend 25 years with 100,000 children.

The University will soon take part in the largest study of child and human health ever conducted in the United States.

Minnesota will be one of 22 research centers nationwide taking part in the National Children’s Study. The program will follow 100,000 children from before birth to age 21, looking at effects environmental and genetic factors have on children’s health.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services, among several government agencies, awarded the University $14 million to lead the study during the next five years.

In all, $2.7 billion will be allocated for the study over the next 25 years.

Dr. Pat McGovern, director of graduate studies in the School of Public Health, is the principal researcher of the study.

“It is an incredible opportunity to participate in a research project of this importance and scope,” she said.

The study seeks information to help prevent and cure some of the nation’s most pressing health problems, such as asthma, obesity and autism, McGovern said.

“What we learn will help not only children and families in Minnesota, but will help children across the country,” she said.

The University was selected for the study because of its national reputation for being a leader in children’s health research.

“School of Public Health researchers bring a depth of experience in maternal and child health,” McGovern said. “Additionally, the School of Public Health is nationally known for its ability to successfully conduct longitudinal studies.”

Even though the $14 million is for an initial five-year period, McGovern said she hopes the study will be able to continue for 21 years.

Participants for the study will be divided into three different 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, we hope to identify factors that influence health and development as children grow,” McGovern said.

The University has joined forces with the St. Paul-Ramsey County Department of Public Health as a research site for the study.

Rob Fulton, director of the department, said in a press release he feels his organization’s involvement will benefit the county’s public-health policy development.

“The department places great emphasis on the health of the county populations and the role played by research to support the development of effective policy strategies for healthy families and communities,” he said.

Deb Hendricks, the department’s Healthy Families Section manager, will be working with the University on the study.

She said her department was chosen for the study due to the expertise of its staff.

Hendricks and other health professionals from the department will serve as liaisons between study staff and the participants, she said. They will also assist study researchers in interviewing subjects and gathering information.

“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,” McGovern said.