National child health study coming to Worcester.
The documentation of our kids' lives starts with those black-and-white fetal ultrasound pictures; then comes the family photos, the annual school pictures and the yearbook shots.
The lives of America's children are regularly documented from before birth to beyond by family, schools, friends and classmates.
Now the country will be taking a different kind of picture, and it will do more than just record outward physical features. The National Children's Study will record the health and development of 100,000 children - 1,000 of them in Worcester County - in an unprecedented effort to shed new light on the development of children and their surroundings.
There have been small studies involving children, but this is "an unprecedented study in its magnitude of expected children to be enrolled and in the length of time that they will be followed," said Dr. Marianne E. Felice, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and the principal investigator for the NCS Worcester County Study Center.
The children's study will be longitudinal. Such studies involve observations of the same variable over a long period of time, often decades. One of the most famous examples is the Framingham Heart Project that goes back to 1948 and continues to this day with subsequent generations.
Almost everything we know about the factors causing heart disease - blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol as well as lifestyle - we have learned from that ongoing study. And those findings have helped physicians change their practice of care in a mostly successful effort to ward off heart attacks.
The children's study will look at the environments of children from pre-birth to 21 and how that affects children's overall health and well-being.
"That information will hopefully lead to improvements in children's health. We should be able to learn more about the associations of environmental conditions and the onset of disease in children," said Dr. Felice.
"For example, if we find across the country that certain toxins in the soil from `brown sites' are associated with an increased number of children with asthma or cancer in that area compared to children not living in that environment, then perhaps the federal government would develop a policy that a given toxin can no longer be used in industrial sites," she said.
However, before the main study gets under way, federal officials have chosen three study centers across the country to pioneer methods for recruiting expectant mothers to share information with the national data collectors for the study. One of these centers will be the Worcester County Study Center.
UMass was recently awarded a $3.6 million grant for a one-year project from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to recruit expectant mothers from provider sites such as local obstetrician's offices and prenatal clinics, as well as three hospitals in Worcester County. A total of 15 sites will be sampled.
The pilot study will take place over a 12- to 15-month period, with staff spending about four months in the different provider offices and about three to four months at each hospital. A total of 160 pregnant women are expected to be enrolled from the provider offices and another 125 women from the hospitals.
The first site chosen by the national NCS office to participate in the pilot study is the Family Health Center of Worcester Inc. at 26 Queen St.
"We will open the door to Main South," said Frances M. Anthes, the Family Health Center's president and chief executive officer, and patients will have the opportunity to connect with UMass resources. The two institutions already have a 40-year partnership, and Family Health is a residency training site for the medical school's department of family medicine and community health.
Family Health records about 300 births a year, but since pregnancy is a nine-month process, the center probably cares for as many as 500 women a year in different stages of their pregnancy, according to Ms. Anthes.
While the Main South area is the geographical base for the health center, the center is also open to patients from outside the area, and patients who move from the neighborhood often return to continue their medical care at Family Health, according to Ms. Anthes.
Staff at the health center will arrange for the study's data collectors to meet with patients at their first prenatal appointments. The data collectors will explain the study and ask women to consider their participation. Women who agree to take part will meet at home with data collectors twice over the course of their pregnancies and again after their babies are born.
The Worcester County Study Center, which is on UMass property in Shrewsbury, already has more than 25 staff members. Three of those are clinical engagement specialists and eight are data collectors/recruiters.
As results of the study become known, those findings will be made public as soon as possible, so that health providers, communities and others may be able to move in a timely manner to change or moderate factors that impact the health and/or development of children.
"As we tell mothers who are asked to participate in the study, the findings from NCS will help shape the policies concerning child health for your grandchildren," said Dr. Felice.
CUTLINE: Dr. Marianne E. Felice, a professor of pediatrics and obstetrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, is the principal investigator for the NCS Worcester County Study Center.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/BETTY JENEWIN
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|Title Annotation:||BUSINESS MATTERS|
|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Dec 30, 2012|
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