October 03, 2008
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has expanded the role played by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a long-term, wide-ranging study of the nation’s children.

Anna Maria Siega-Riz, PhD

Anna Maria Siega-Riz, PhD

Barbara Entwisle, Ph.D., director of the Carolina Population Center, is the study’s principal investigator. Anna Maria Siega-Riz, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Nancy Dole, PhD, adjunct associate professor of epidemiology and deputy director of the center, are study co-directors.

The NIH announced that it will add Burke, Cumberland and Durham counties to the National Children’s Study, which explores causes of health problems such as premature birth, birth defects, autism, obesity, injuries, heart disease, asthma and developmental delays.

The project, the largest longitudinal study of its kind ever conducted in the United States, will ultimately track 100,000 children, from before birth through the age of 21.

In North Carolina, the study is already underway in Duplin and Rockingham counties. Data collection will begin in Duplin County next year and in Burke, Durham and Rockingham counties in 2010. Cumberland County will begin a year later. UNC’s Carolina Population Center is contracted to enroll volunteers and run the study in the state.

Entwisle said the study will examine the effects of social, behavioral, biological, community and environmental factors on children’s health and development.

It will seek to answer multiple questions on multiple issues, such as:

  • Can very early exposure to some allergens help children remain asthma-free?
  • How do genes and the environment interact to promote or prevent violent behavior in teenagers?
  • Are lack of exercise and poor diet the only reasons why many children are overweight?
  • Do infections impact developmental progress, asthma, obesity and heart disease?
  • How do city and neighborhood planning and construction encourage or discourage injuries?

“North Carolina will be well represented in the study with over 5,000 children and their families involved,” said Entwisle. “Their information will contribute to a better understanding of children’s health in North Carolina and throughout the United States.” Entwisle is also Kenan Professor of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Siega-Riz, also a center fellow, said a key component of the study includes outreach to members of the community, including those in the health, education, faith and government sectors.

“Community outreach is critical to the success of this study. We will be working closely with many people in each of these counties before it gets underway to let them know more details about how the study will be done,” Siega-Riz said.

UNC will receive nearly $37 million for study activities in Burke, Cumberland and Durham counties over the next five years.

“We are delighted to have a strong team of researchers and data collectors involved in this effort,” said Dole. “North Carolina has extensive expertise to bring to this landmark study.”

UNC’s project partners include Duke University, Battelle Memorial Institute and McMillan & Moss Research.

“It is exciting to have these counties involved in the National Children’s Study so that we can learn more about what factors keep children healthy,” said Dr. Emmanuel (Chip) Walter, pediatrician and lead researcher at Duke University.

Currently, UNC is one of 36 study centers which will recruit volunteers from 72 locations. The project will eventually include 105 counties throughout the United States.

The study is a collaboration of several federal agencies. In addition to the NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contribute to its design and oversight.

For more about the National Children’s Study project, visit: https://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/ncs or http://www.nationalchildrensstudy.gov.

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UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, (919) 966-7467, ramona_dubose@unc.edu.



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