The National Children's Study (NCS) will track hundreds of thousands of kids throughout the U.S. from before birth until they turn 21. It's the largest long-term examination of children's health ever conducted in the U.S. In Pennsylvania, Westmoreland County is where the tracking will happen, and researchers are currently enrolling eligible families.
The purpose is to determine how environmental factors influence health, development, and overall quality of life; in particular, why some problems have skyrocketed in recent years.
"The rate of Autism Spectrum Disorders has increased 370 percent in the U.S. since 1980. Attention Deficit Disorder has increased by approximately 250 percent since 1990, and asthma rates are at historic highs. It's estimated that out of 100 children, 17 will become obese," said Jane Cauley, professor in the Graduate School of Public Health at Pitt and principal investigator of the NCS in Westmoreland.
The term "environment" is quite broad for the purpose of the study, encompassing the obvious factors such as the air a child breathes or the food they eat, as well as more complex issues.
"We want to look at their physical activity. We want to look at their neighborhood. How do characteristics of the neighborhood impact children's health and growth and development? We want to look at soil samples. We want to look at dust samples in the home, or we may want to collect samples of dust from their vacuum cleaner bag," said Cauley.
The study is currently seeking Westmoreland County women who are planning to become pregnant soon, or are already pregnant. Cauley said that while this is a vast undertaking, the lives of children and families involved shouldn't be interrupted.
"During pregnancy, there would be two pre-birth visits, then there would be a birth visit where we collect some questionnaire-type information. As the child gets older, then there will be periodic questionnaires or phone interviews. We do not want this study to be burdensome in any way," she said.
According to the National Children's Study website, officials chose Westmoreland County because of its location, its diversity, and the number of children born there each year. When combined with the other locations, it provides a sort of mini-model of the U.S.
Montgomery and Schuylkill Counties are also part of the study, and Philadelphia County has been identified as a potential future site. Those interested in enrolling should call 1-866-315-7125 or visit the NCS Westmoreland website.