A child doing homework
The National Children's Study will follow as many as 100,000 American children from gestation to age 21 to identify root causes of childhood and adult diseases and disorders. Recruitment in Orange County starts this spring. National Children's Study

The National Children’s Study is looking for a few good women.

This spring and summer, interview teams will canvass Orange County neighborhoods for women 18 to 44 who plan to bear children within five years. Some of these women, and their future children, will become pioneers in the largest and most comprehensive long-term study ever conducted in the U.S. on child development and health.

The recruitment marks the next phase of the ambitious National Children’s Study, authorized by Congress in the Children’s Health Act of 2000. In 2005, one of seven initial study locations was established in Orange County by UC Irvine, Children’s Hospital of Orange County, the Children & Families Commission of Orange County, and the Orange County Health Care Agency. Over the next several years, the study plans to enroll as many as 100,000 children at 105 sites across the nation.

By tracking children’s development, researchers hope to determine the root causes of many childhood and adult ailments, potentially leading to new preventives and treatments for birth defects and pregnancy-related problems, injuries, asthma, obesity, diabetes and behavior, learning and mental health disorders.

“Orange County families have an unprecedented opportunity to help improve the health of America’s children,” says Dr. Dean Baker, UCI medicine professor and Orange County study director. “If a study worker comes to your door, we hope you will give him or her a few minutes of your time to determine whether or not you’re eligible.”

Enrolled women will become active subjects upon getting pregnant. Researchers will analyze home water, air, dust and soil samples. Prenatal care will be evaluated, and the mothers-to-be will undergo periodic blood and ultrasound tests. When the babies are born, researchers will collect cord blood, placenta and breast milk samples and conduct neurological assessments at the hospital.

And that’s just the beginning. The study – which will review a wide range of biological, physical, genetic, social, cultural and other factors – will follow the children until they’re 21, building a library of data that will guide pediatric and adolescent care for decades.

The National Children’s Study couldn’t come at a more important time, says Virginia Allhusen, a UCI child development specialist and study coordinator, as childhood diseases and disorders are becoming more prevalent and long-lasting. Asthma, diabetes, autism and childhood obesity are major concerns for parents around the country, and Orange County is no different: Fully a third of children here are overweight or at risk of becoming so, one in four struggles with asthma, and the number diagnosed with developmental disabilities has been climbing steadily.

Allhusen sees the National Children’s Study having the same impact as the Framingham Heart Study, a large, ongoing research program begun in 1948 that has revealed much of what we know about cardiovascular disease.

“People who participated in the Framingham study were proud that their efforts helped lead to new treatments and saved lives,” she says. “I hope that the families and children who join the National Children’s Study will feel the same way.”

Over the next five years, Orange County organizers plan to enroll 1,250 women from 13 cities selected to ensure that diverse ethnic, racial, economic, religious, geographic and social groups are fairly represented.

In 2006 and 2007, San Diego, San Bernardino and Kern counties joined Orange County to form the Southern and Central California Study Center, along with UC San Diego and UC Berkeley; California State University campuses in San Diego, San Bernardino and Bakersfield; and Loma Linda University. San Diego County will begin neighborhood recruiting in 2011 and San Bernardino and Kern counties in 2012.

To learn more about the study or inquire about participating, call 949-824-4121.