Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Searching for a Link between Health and the Environment

A great motto I try to live by is “everything in moderation.” But there some things that, even in moderation, are not safe.

The second World War marked a dramatic increase in the production of synthetic chemicals; compounds that do not occur naturally. Man-made chemicals were developed to be used as pesticides, industrial solvents, and cleaning products. Initially, they were used widely without much thought about their impact on human health. Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book Silent Spring changed everything. The book pointed to concrete evidence that chemicals, such as DDT, were having lasting impacts on the environment and health.

Today we understand the potential adverse effects the chemicals we use every day can have on our bodies. Ensuring that they are safe for their intended use, however, has turned out to be a challenging problem. Increasingly, researchers are voicing concerns of possible lasting harmful effects on one specific group: our children. Experiments have still been largely unable to determine the exact consequences of chemical exposures during development and can only provide us with inexact correlations to a cluster of illnesses.

The National Children’s Study has been developed to find answers for these unanswered questions. We are seeing the incidence of chronic diseases, such as asthma and obesity, occurring at rates never seen before. But we do not yet know if these illnesses are a result of our genetics, our exposure to environmental chemicals, or the interaction of the two. Understanding how exposures at critical periods impact our children’s long-term health will enable us to work towards the prevention of these illnesses.

The National Children’s Study is designed to follow the development of 100,000 children from before their birth to 21 years of age. By sampling environmental exposures for a nationally representative group of children, it will attempt to determine a link between environmental factors and human health.

Currently they are recruiting pregnant mothers in their first trimester. It may seem like a large commitment since there will be a study representative visiting your home to collect samples from you, your child and the environment until they are 21. However, the bulk of the visits will be when the child is young, and are predicted to be only every two years once the child is older.

This is a landmark study that should revolutionize environmental health. Would you be willing to participate?

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