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the-state-of-childrens-heath-main-imageBy: Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc.
Safeguarding the Health of Our Children
America has a special responsibility to safeguard its children. They are America’s most precious resource – and the hope for our future. But today rapidly rising disease rates threaten the health of our children. The National Children’s Study will give us the ability to understand these epidemics – and fundamentally enhance the health of America’s children in the 21st Century.
 
The National Children’s Study is path-breaking in its scope and promise. Mandated by Congress in 2000, the study will follow 100,000 children from before birth to age 21. By working with pregnant women and couples, the study will gather an unprecedented amount of data about how environmental factors alone, or interacting with genetic factors, affect childhood health. Examining a wide range of environmental factors – from air, water, and dust to what children eat and how often they see a doctor – the study will help develop prevention strategies and cures for a wide range of childhood diseases. By collecting data nationwide – before diseases arise – the study can test unproven theories and generate hypotheses that will inform spin-off studies for years to come. Simply put, this seminal effort will provide the foundation for children’s healthcare in the 21st Century.
 
Congress has already started the job. Between 2000 and 2005, Congress invested more than $55 million to design the study and begin building the nationwide network necessary for its implementation. Seven Vanguard Centers have already been designated to test the necessary research guidelines – with plans to expand the program to 38 states and 105 communities nationwide. The tough job of designing and organizing is nearly complete. Funding for the Study this year will permit researchers to begin achieving the results that will make fundamental improvements in the health of America’s children.
 
The Study Is Critical for America’s Children
Health care professionals and medical experts agree that America is experiencing striking increases in childhood disorders. The facts are startling:
 
    Asthma has become the most common chronic disease of childhood. In the last 15 years, it has risen 160% for children under 5.
    ADHD and developmental disorders collectively are estimated to affect 17% of all school children – nearly one in every five.
    Since the 1970’s, the proportion of overweight children between the ages of 6-19 has tripled, leading to dramatic increases in Type II diabetes and other disorders.
    Autism rates in America continue to increase more than 20% a year.
 
Medical science increasingly recognizes the critical interactions between genes and the environment. These interactions start early in life, affect the health of our children, and set the stage for adult disorders. The National Children’s Study will help relate previously unconnected and new data, permitting us to identify preventable risk factors, prove or disprove today’s speculative hypotheses and generate clinical practices that can improve the lives of millions of children. For the first time, researchers will apply knowledge of the human genome on a large scale and relate it to gene/environment interactions. The Study can unlock solutions to America’s most serious childhood maladies, improving the lives of America’s children and dramatically reducing health costs for generations to come.
 
The Study Will More Than Pay for Itself
The Study will yield benefits far outweighing the cost. Today, six of the diseases that are the focus of the study (obesity, injury, asthma, diabetes, autism and schizophrenia) cost America $642 billion each year. If the Study were to produce even a 1% reduction in the cost of these chronic diseases, it would save $6.4 billion each year alone, 50 times more than the average yearly costs of the study itself.
 
The Study Enjoys Broad Support
The Study enjoys a broad group of supporters, including The American Academy of Pediatrics; Easter Seals; the March of Dimes; the National Hispanic Medical Association; the National Association of County and City Health Officials; the National Rural Health Association; the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses; United Cerebral Palsy; the Spina Bifida Association of America; and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, just to name a few. This broad and diverse group recognizes the overwhelming benefits this Study will produce for America’s children.
 
Congress Should Fully Fund the National Children’s Study
Congress first authorized the National Children’s Study in 2000, appropriating $55 million since then to design the Study, complete preparatory research, and designate the seven Vanguard sites that will conduct preliminary testing. This was a wise investment that should not be abandoned just as the Study is about to bear fruit. Unfortunately, the Administration has not provided continued funding in the FY ’07 budget, which threatens to squander the investment already made and to throw away the multi-generational benefits the Study will yield. Funding for the study this year requires a commitment of $69 million, which will be used to begin enrolling children in the study and enable the NIH to continue establishing the 105 study sites around the country. We urge Congress to fully fund the National Children’s Study. It is an investment in our children – and in America’s future.
 
landriganAbout Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc.
 
Chair, Department of Community and Preventive Medicine Director, Center for Children’s Health and the Environment Mount Sinai School of Medicine New York, NY
 
Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc. is a pediatrician and the Ethel H. Wise Professor and Chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.  He holds a Professorship in Pediatrics at Mount Sinai and directs the Mount Sinai Center for Children’s Health and the Environment.
 
Dr. Landrigan obtained his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1967.  He obtained a Master of Science in occupational medicine and a Diploma of Industrial Health from the University of London.
 
Dr. Landrigan is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.  He is Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine and previously was Editor of Environmental Research.  He has chaired committees at the National Academy of Sciences on Environmental Neurotoxicology and on Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children.  Dr. Landrigan’s report on pesticides and children’s health was instrumental in securing passage of the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, the major federal pesticide law in the United States.
 
In New York City, he served on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee to prevent Childhood Lead Paint Poisoning and on the Childhood Immunization Advisory Committee.   From 1995 to 1997, Dr. Landrigan served on the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veteran’s Illnesses.
 
In 1997 and 1998, Dr. Landrigan served as Senior Advisor on Children’s Health to the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  He was responsible at EPA for helping to establish a new Office of Children’s Health Protection.  Dr. Landrigan has been involved since 1999 in the development of the National Children’s Study.
 
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