National Children’s Study launches in St. Louis this week

Washington University, SLU, SIU, Battelle Center collaborate on landmark research

The National Children’s Study, the largest study ever conducted in the United States to learn about the health and development of children, is beginning in St. Louis this week.

Washington University, Saint Louis University, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and the Battelle Center for Public Health Research and Evaluation’s St. Louis office are collaborating on this project.

The study will follow more than 100,000 U.S. children before birth until age 21 from 79 metropolitan areas and 26 rural communities. It will examine the effects of the environment and genetics on growth, development and health.

Carrying identification badges and driving cars marked with the National Children’s Study logo, workers from the Battelle Center will go door-to-door in selected St. Louis neighborhoods as they identify women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant and would like their children to be part of the study. Ultimately, more than 1,000 children from the city will be sought for the research, which will last for more than 21 years.

“The study will examine how children’s health is affected by many factors, including their family health history and places where they live, learn and play,” says Allison King, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of the St. Louis site. “Some of those factors occur prior to conception or during the first trimester of pregnancy, which is why we’re studying children before birth.”

King said the consequences of other factors, such as environmental exposure, may take a lot of time to develop, which is why the study lasts until participants are 21 years old.

The study gathers information and environmental and genetic materials, such as samples of drinking water or strands of hair. Families enrolled in the study will provide information and samples during meetings with the study team staff before and during pregnancy and after birth, as the child grows up.

The study seeks information to prevent and treat some of the nation’s most pressing health problems, including autism, birth defects, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

“With the results from this project, we hope to improve the health and well-being of all children,” says Vetta Sanders Thompson, PhD, associate professor in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University and the study’s local investigator for community engagement and outreach. “We believe the National Children’s Study will guide public health policies and the treatment of children for generations to come.”

The study is being led locally by Saint Louis University School of Public Health. It is being funded by a $26 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and a consortium of federal agencies including the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The cost of the research is estimated at $3 billion over the next 25 years.

For more information about the study, visit