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The National Children's Study (www.nationalchildrensstudy.gov), which will follow 100,000 children from before birth to age 21 to glean a deeper understanding of how to maximize their health, is recruiting participants. Dr. LuAnn White is the principle investigator of The National Children's Study at Tulane University Study Center, one of 105 sites conducting the nationwide study. She shares information about what the study will accomplish and what participants can expect.

Q: What is The National Children's Study?

A: It's a landmark study that follows children from pre-birth to adulthood, age 21 years. This will be one of the largest studies of children and health, and it will provide a tremendous amount of information not only on diseases and illnesses, but also how we define health and what makes a healthy child.

Q: What would the time commitment be for someone who wants to participate?

A: The time commitment is minimal. There are some initial questionnaires for the pregnant mother that ask about general factors. There are up to two or three pre-birth questionnaires, depending on when she comes in; if it's early in the pregnancy, it may be more. There's a birth visit to get information about the birth, and then periodic follow-up questionnaires that are more frequent when the child is young. There are questionnaires every three to six months, and then as the child gets older, once a year. At some point, we will collect environmental samples and biological specimens, but these will be minimal time commitments. We'd like women and children to participate in every questionnaire and activity, but if they can't, they can ... still be in the study.

Q: What if a participant moves out of New Orleans?

A: Since this is a nationwide study, there are study centers in many places across the country, so (the mother) could transfer. If she moves where there isn't a center, there is a way to stay in the study and proceed.

What are the benefits of participating?

A: As a research study, the benefit is really for the greater good, for understanding the factors that contribute to health in children. Right now we know a lot about many diseases; in addition to that, we'll look at what actually makes children healthy, what makes them thrive. That's the primary benefit. For each questionnaire a woman completes, she receives a gift card. For the people who participate, this is a voluntary activity.

Q: When does the study begin?

A: It has started in the sense that we are recruiting participants. We're in the pilot phase of testing out methods we will use. The main study will begin in 2013, but we are actively recruiting participants now. Those who enter in the pilot study will be full participants; they'll receive everything the main study participants will receive. And we hope this will go on for the next 20 to 25 years.

Q: What do you hope we'll learn from the study?

A: If you look at the clinical parameters we have, most were developed in the '50s and '60s. We have what is abnormal, and then we say a certain range is normal. But what makes a child minimally healthy, what makes one who is healthy, and what makes one who is thriving?

  We realize children are not tiny adults. Things that affect them early in childhood may have longer ramifications than we once thought. We don't know (how that works) unless we have a large study that measures environmental and sociological effects in children and follows the children over long periods of time.

  There's not just one aspect to a child's health — it's not just environment, nutrition, exercise, what goes on in a home — it is interrelated, and this study is looking at all factors across the board. We'll gather information on home life, stress, nutrition, exercise, and we'll be looking at the gene interactions, so this will set the public health and clinical standards for many years to come.

Q: How can people learn more about participating?

A: Anyone who is interested can call us at 988-1NCS (988-1627) and get more information on the study. This is geared toward Orleans Parish residents, but anyone who is interested can call. Women who are planning to become pregnant may also join the study.

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