The federal government is underwriting the largest study of U.S. children ever performed. The National Children’s Study will track 100,000 individuals from mothers’ wombs to age 21 in order to increase understanding of how the environment affects the health of America"s youth.
Rates of autism, asthma, certain birth defects and other disorders are on the rise, as is concern about which environmental factors play a role. And technology has finally advanced enough to allow study of multi-chemical and gene-environment interactions that might explain why some children seem at greater risk.
The study, ordered by Congress in 2000, is in its late planning stages. Enrollment of pregnant women is set for 2006, although proponents hope three pilot sites could begin work late next year. Already, families alerted by interested patient-advocacy groups are asking how to participate.
Congress has provided roughly $12 million annually for three years of study preparation. President Bush requested the same amount for next year, and budget constraints have lawmakers indicating they’re unlikely to provide more. Yet scientists involved in the study say they need as much as $50 million next year alone to ramp up, and will look to private donors and industry support to close the gap. The study is expected to cost $2.7 billion over two decades.