It turned out to be a failure of epic proportions but noble intent, but the National Children’s Health Study launched a long-term research project in San Diego to determine how the environment affects the health and development of a child. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine and San Diego State University, and it aimed to follow 100,000 children through their development to age 21. The findings were meant to help scientists learn more about the environmental risk factors associated with illnesses such as childhood asthma, obesity and autism.
Christina Chambers, a professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine, said the findings would provide researchers with an insight into the environmental causes of various diseases that are developed during childhood.
“We will finally be able to create a national sample to help us confirm, for example, whether suspected contaminants such as pesticides and other chemicals are actually the cause of birth defects or metabolic disease,” Chambers said.
“There is little doubt,” the NIH committee said at the time, “that elucidating the interactions and impact of environmental, genetic, behavioral, and societal factors in child development is enormously important, and could lead to major improvements in child, adolescent, and indeed long-term adult health.”
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And the end of the study was perhaps the saddest result imaginable as any attempt to resurrect the project seems unlikely in the extreme.
NIH officials ultimately sent letters to the vanguard families involved in the study to assure them that all was not in vain and “all of the valuable information and specimens that you and your family have contributed will be stored and made available to scientists to further our understanding of environment and health…for many years to come.”
The study fell far short of the 21-year database collection goal and the 100,000 children it hoped to document and ended after just seven years and included only 5,000 children.
In the end, the death of the study and the missed opportunity it represented, is a loss of incalculable proportions as children are more susceptible to environmental factors than adults. According to the World Health Organization, it is because they are growing and consuming more food and air in proportion to their weight. They are still developing in all areas and are sometimes unable to make choices to protect themselves.
Children’s health problems can be a result of contaminated water, poor sanitation, indoor smoke, rampant disease vectors such as mosquitoes, inadequate food supply and unsafe use of chemicals and waste disposal, which rank among the highest environmental burden of disease worldwide.
Environmental risk factors can even include the conditions inside of a mother’s womb. According to a Harvard University study, expecting mothers who gain too much weight are likely to give birth to heavier babies who are at risk of becoming obese and developing illnesses like cancer or asthma later in life.
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