To get a scientific picture of some of our social ills the United States is about to launch a $2.7 billion nationwide study that will follow more than 100,000 children from birth until the age of 21. Recruitment of pregnant women will start in January, says a spokesman for the federal agencies in charge of the research. Investigators hope to find explanations for the rising rates of premature births, childhood obesity, cancer, autism, endocrine disorders and behavioural problems. They will examine factors like genetics and child rearing, geography, exposure to chemicals, nutrition and pollution. Mothers will necessarily be involved; fathers will be encouraged but not required to take part.
Some experts say it is high time for the US to run a study like this — studies of similar size and scope are under way in Britain, Denmark and Norway — while others question its cost effectiveness compared with smaller, more focused research, especially when the economy is falling to pieces. Another concern is the presence of scientists from 3M and Pfizer (one from each company) on the study’s advisory board. Some of us might argue that it’s pretty obvious what lies behind obesity, behavioural problems and a few other things.
However, one gets the impression that there are scientists impatient to get started. The National Children’s Study was conceived during the Clinton administration and authorised in 2000, since when more than 2400 experts have met in panels for hundreds of hours to work out details of how the research will be run. And a pilot study has been running in New York and California since 2001; it has already shown that pregnant women exposed to certain chemicals in pesticides were more likely to have babies with small brains and impaired cognition. ~ New York Times, Oct 28