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Updated on January 4, 2007

Struggle Over Funding for National Children’s Study Continues
(Beyond Pesticides, January 4, 2007)
After six years of planning and $53 million worth of investment, the National Children’s Study (NCS), a research project of huge scope and significance that would study links between behavioral, social and environmental factors and chronic disease, is at a standstill due to lack of funding. Doctors and scientists hoped this project would establish environmental links, including exposure to pesticides, air pollution and other chemicals, to recent increases in childhood cancers, asthma, autism, diabetes and a wide range of diseases.

The study was originally part of the Children’s Health Act of 2000 (public law 106-310), and has been facing under-funding by the Bush administration throughout its existence. The project’s lead organization, the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) did not receive the funds it needed for fiscal year 2004, delaying the study by one year. For fiscal year 2005, President Bush requested $12 million to only allow the planning activities to continue, which has effectively delayed the study by an additional year. The $69 million that were anticipated to be allocated for the project by the federal government in 2007, in order to begin enrollment and sample collection, has not been allocated, ending the study unless some other source of funding becomes available.

The NCS project would have monitored the health of 100,000 children from birth to age 21 in various parts of the country, collecting genetic material and blood samples and recording kids' exposure to everything from pesticides to air pollution, determining how children's physical and social environments--from the water they drink to the homes they live in and the video games they play--interact with their genetic makeup and affect the onset of disease. The significance of establishing these sorts of links, especially as conditions such as asthma, autism, diabetes and obesity are on the rise during childhood, would be a huge step for doctors and scientists. “This work is absolutely critical," said Dr. Edward Clark, chairman of the department of pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Dr. Myron Genel, a professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, cites the Framingham Heart Study, a project launched after World War II to investigate contributors to heart disease and strokes, as comparable in scope and significance to the NCS. This study proved highly successful, elucidating the role of cholesterol, hypertension and cigarette smoking in heart disease and strokes and helping give rise to prevention strategies that reduced cardiovascular disease in men by 50 percent.

“We need the same kind of science, the same kind of information, to enable us to develop a blueprint for controlling chronic diseases that have their origins in childhood," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of community medicine at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

The potential benefits of the National Children’s Study, both in the form of a healthier populace and billions of dollars saved in health care costs, lost productivity and other expenses, are huge. Even a one percent reduction in the incidence of chronic diseases could yield enormous benefits--as much as $6 billion in health-care cost savings a year, according to some estimates. The problem with these sorts of savings is that they come in the long run, potentially ten to 30 years down the road, which does not help a federal government facing huge budget deficits now.

The House Appropriations Committee has suggested the money be taken from the NICHD budget, while the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed the money come from NIH funds. Scientists, including Dr. Genel, believe that an appropriation from Congress is the only way the NCS could continue.

"It's hard to fathom why we can give lip service to how much we care about children, and then decide not to put up the money when it comes down to trying to get answers about fundamental questions related to their health," he said.

Source: Chicago Tribune

TAKE ACTION: With many other competing issues on healthcare agenda for the new Congress, the National Children’s Study may go un-funded and have to be terminated. Contact President Bush and your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative, telling them how you feel about the importance of funding the National Children’s Study and protecting children's health.