"We really don't know much about the environmental exposures that children have and how those may contribute to environmental diseases," said Dr. Donald Dudley, vice chair for research in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. "There are diseases that are now epidemic that didn't use to be epidemic, asthma and autism, and we don't really understand where they come from. What's genetic and what's environmental?"
To help answer such questions, Congress passed the Children's Health Act of 2000, requiring, among other things, a 21-year study to record the environmental exposures 100,000 children encounter from birth to 21 years of age. Though the National Children's Study has been delayed for a decade, primarily because the Bush administration defunded it year after year, researchers across the country, and here in Bexar County, are now enrolling pregnant women with the expectation that research will get underway next year. Most of the county's obstetricians in the city are involved in identifying and referring potentially eligible pregnant women to participate. "The majority of people that are potentially eligible want to participate because they realize how important it is," said Dudley, who serves on the study's federal advisory committee for the National Institutes of Health. "They want to be a part of this big national study because it's important to children across the United States."
The study's design hinges on regular check-ins with researchers, as well as parent questionnaires and taking of "biological and environmental samples." Other Texas counties participating include Travis, Hidalgo, Lamar, Dallas, and Harris counties, among others. For more information, see nationalchildrensstudy.gov.