East Lansing, MI – One year ago, researchers at Michigan State University began a sweeping 21-year national study of childhood health. The MSU team is leading a statewide an effort to document environmental health effects among children in Wayne County. The study will ultimately involve up to 100,000 families in 30 sites across the country. Four thousand families are in Michigan alone.
Today, the framework of this long-term study continues to take shape. MSU's Dr. Nigel Paneth is the principal investigator with the Michigan Alliance for the National Children's Study. He says collecting environmental data first means collecting a lot of dust.
NIGEL PANETH: Most mothers don't object to us taking dust away from their homes: a sample of the air, a sample of the water, and perhaps a sample of the soil around the house. Now, in these areas we can study molds, we can study heavy metals we can study pesticide residues, we can study all sorts of things that might be around the home and then we can ask, when we have a large enough sample, is this a home in which the baby child had asthma, is this a home where the baby had a birth defect and begin to see if there are any relationships between what's out there in the environment and what we see in terms of the health of the babies and the mothers.
ANNA SCHROEN: What about Wayne County is special? Why is it representative of the U.S.?
PANETH: The national sampling scheme selected about 100 counties to represent the U.S., 100 that looked like the U.S. in aggregate. These counties were selected based on size and composition of their populations and there were actually 13 very large counties, which by their size have to be included in any national sample, and Wayne at that time was the eleventh largest. It actually wouldn't make a national sample on those criteria anymore but it did in 2004.
SCHROEN: What has been the response of the community? What kind of support have you gotten?
PANETH: I would say Wayne has been a remarkably good place to do research, and although you might worry that in the harder parts of Wayne it would be hard to recruit women to the study, we've actually had some of the best results of the nation in Wayne County. A very large majority of the women we talk to agree to participate.
SCHROEN: So, this is a 21 year study, how long before you think that you are going to get any results?
PANETH: Well, the whole study will last 21 years, but we don't have to wait 21 years to examine an outcome that is present at birth, do we? We have birth outcomes already on some, approximately 80, births. We know how much they weigh; we know when they were born in terms of their gestational ages and we've interviewed the mother. There are national projects to pull together the data even at this early stage.
SCHROEN: A lot of this study seems to focus around the mother and the child, is there also a paternal aspect?
PANETH: Very good question. Fathers do come into it. Just the other day I was opening up one of the questionnaires to look at on such things as: How often do you read to your child? Do you ever sing to your child? Do you take your child to a museum? To a library? Things like this will document the involvement of parents in specific activities related to child development. This kind of thing has not been collected on such a scale before and we have every reason to believe that they will be important for child development.
SCHROEN: What's the next step in the study?
PANETH: We soon expect to hear an announcement of the shape and framework and goals of the main study. Many of the things I've mentioned have been part of the planning, but we don't know quite what will finally come out. Probably this calendar year we will begin recruiting in the main study in Wayne County. And then, we hope, within a year after that, in the two next counties in Michigan, which are Lenawee and Grand Traverse and then after that in two more counties, Genesee and Macomb. So we will probably be recruiting for about six years, in Michigan, and then, of course, we will be involved in the follow-up.